Well before the pandemic, I read Station's Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I guess it is post-apocalyptic, in that modern civilization quickly implodes following a sweeping,fatal respiratory pandemic.
But that's not my point. One scene sticks with me.. Outbound travellers at a midwestern airport are of course aware of the viral death march around them. But what does that have to do with my flight being late? They are annoyed at the confusing delay announcements...and then dumbstruck when the voice finally announces that all personnel have left the airport. As have all the taxis, buses, and other public transports.
So they sit. Waiting for "they." As in "I'm sure they will send over the National Guard to take us to some hotels." "I'm sure" dwindles to "I hope they are going to leave us some food" and finally to the edge.
"They wouldn't just leave us here. Would they?"
Sooner or later, some folks let go of their boarding passes and figure out that the only "they" who will care for them are the ones in the mirror
Which brings me to trying to get a COVID vaccine in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
I live in a largely affluent county that sits right next to Philadelphia and across the river from the capital of New Jersey. My doctors are part of a sophisticated tertiary-care hospital network and I am smart, energetic, and finally happy to be old because I am now in the coveted "1A" group. The county is falling over itself converting this college and that mall into injection sites by appointment.
But how do you get this mysterious appointment?
My doctor's message is "wait for us to call you." So I wait. As all my 1A friends in other states get their vaccines--and their grandchildren. My doctor can't get enough supply, she suggests I try Rite-Aid, Walgreen's, and CVS. She heard that a local grocery store pharmacy posts new appointments every morning at 5:30 am. She heard? Like she heard that Kim and Kanye are on the outs?
But I grab at any straw. I am up at 5 am every day filling in the same lengthy forms only to arrive at the same page: no appointments available.
I finally locate the County website that is taking names and "we will call you" to schedule an appointment when...when whatever they need to happen occurs.
Its now early March and my daughter in Illinois is completely vaccinated and I break down crying. Nice, huh? I have turned myself into a madwoman...in all senses. Partially from lack of sleep and the psychic assault that comes from filling in e-forms at dawn every day. But mostly, it is from outrage (and fear) erupting from my core: This is what government is for, to protect and defend us. Aren't "they" supposed to be taking of us?
I turn to "them" directly. My congressman's office completely agrees with me, the lack of a centralized response plan is appalling. And that of course is the fault of the state. My state senator's office completely agrees with me. Too bad the county's such a mess. (My county commissioner had the good sense to return my call when I was not at home.). Both pointed how difficult it is to reach everyone...I pointed out that they had no trouble when they wanted my vote. I added that the local kids' soccer league and pee-wee softball have six signs across the street telling me how to sign up for spring training. Maybe they should contact the local coaches for advice?
Then I got another lead from more whispering-down-the-lane antics and signed up for the medical networks in the next county and throughout New Jersey. I nearly required cardiac resuscitation when I logged on in an automaton coma for the fourth time in one day and bingo: an appointment! Of course, I had to drive 60 minutes north but it was worth it.
And look where they sent me: our amusement park! Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom, to be exact.
Ironically, I have always been petrified of roller coasters, tilt-a-whirls and all other rides except for those little boats with the bell you can ring. But Himself told me that if I got my shot and didn't cry, they would give me cotton candy.
And here's where the story, if you're still with me, turns beautiful. Because "they" became us. Hundreds and hundred of volunteers logging us in and explaining the drive-through (yes!) procedure...
...giving the injection and handing over the paperwork...
It got me crying again. But this time, it was because I was overwhelmed by these faces. "They," these magnificent volunteers, filled a park in the Poconos chill to make it happen for me...for all of us. Ok, the government "they" made the vaccination possible, but at least in my area, they couldn't do what any little league seems to be able to do: get out the word and sign 'em up.
But here in Dorney Park, I saw the "they" that is us at its best. They made me safe. They made it possible for me to fly into the arms of my daughter and grandson next week. They helped the negativity of the early months ease into relief and gratitude.