“How did you reach me here?” my mother asks on one of my daily calls to her.
“What do you mean, mom?”
“How did you know where I was?”
“Aren’t you at home?”
“Where are you?” I called her home phone number; she doesn’t have another.
“I’m in a resort. A place where people usually visit in the winter but also in summer.”
I’ve stopped challenging her perceptions long ago. “And what are you doing there, mom?”
“We look around, we talk to people. I eat three times as much as I eat at home.”
I ask for more details and she changes the subject. “How are you doing?” she asks me in Hebrew, using the plural you.
I answer in kind. “We’re doing well.”
“Give my love to everybody.”
“I will, mom,” I say, and look around at the empty house.
Mother and daughter are confused about I and we, but maybe we’re not the only ones.
I live in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, one of the covid-safest places on earth. Massachusetts joins the states of Vermont, Connecticut, and Hawaii with the highest vaccination rates in the country. The state government issued excellent, tough guidelines about closing up, wearing masks, etiquette in stores, etc. when covid first began. We have superb medical facilities and lots of community support. It doesn’t hurt that, for many of us, population density isn’t high. Most days I see a lot more four-leggeds than two.
In the beginning I thought it was too much. I bore witness to the economic devastation afflicting low-income families, those who depended on stores, restaurants and farms to stay open. It was when everything shut down that I heard of families going hungry, especially immigrant families who didn’t get government assistance, and caused me to start writing about their need for help to put food on the table.
Closing up kept some of us, who could work from home, very safe, and it devastated others, including people who saw their small businesses destroyed and lifelong savings wiped out. But I was wrong to question the mandate to close up; the state got it right. We had local surges like everyone else, but overall, in our area, the numbers stayed low. In the last several months they’ve been very, very low.
Living in such a high level of safety—far, far safer than most people around the world—what do we do?
We have a choice. We can start advocating for those who’re not as safe as we are. We can actively look to support local businesses, stores, and restaurants. We can look outside of ourselves and inquire what others need and how we can help.
We can also try to ratchet up our safety another notch, and another notch, and then another notch. We can scour the Internet for radical solutions, for columns by epidemiologists who claim to know lots more than does the CDC, who push the buttons of fear and anxiety. We can get subsumed by the question of how many feet distance we really need (certainly more than the CDC’s 6, maybe 12, I even heard 25, which for many of us would mean we can’t be in one room with anybody else). Even as we’re reassured about the safety of food, we could spend our energy washing it all after it gets delivered, take more showers than usual, wash our clothes more than usual, and leave Amazon packages outside for days. Anything to feed the beast called fear.
I’m not speaking about people with severely impaired immune systems or who are especially vulnerable. I’m speaking of people like me and younger, including those with almost no special conditions to watch out for. I myself suffer from asthma and have had serious enough reactions to antibiotics that I was once put in ICU for a few days. And yes, I know that the CDC has erred in the past concerning covid—but who hasn’t?
Covid is new, we’re learning more about it even as we live with it. But we have to look wider and bigger than just our individual health. We’re part of a community, a country, and a very well-off one at that. I feel I want to go with the national flow because I want the nation to thrive, not just me. I want to be part of a bigger community that finds its way through this. Recognizing our interdependence, I mask up to protect others. I take the vaccine to protect others.
I go to restaurants to help them open up, because I may well know the dishwasher or the one who comes to clean afterhours, they’re the same people who come to get food cards on Wednesdays. I buy at local farms because the workers there are also familiar to me. I’d like us to be safe enough in order to send massive shipments of vaccine to other countries rather than safeguarding them here, because I’m part of a world that was left topsy-turvy by this virus, much of which hasn’t recovered at all.
When I was in Israel during their latest war with Gaza, I couldn’t help but be moved by the rawness of feelings coupled with a nationwide determination. It didn’t matter whether you were left or right or directionless, old or young, soldier or pacifist, people helped each other and expressed deep concern for each other. There were many who expressed deep concern for Gaza. Then I’d read the American media, which was full of petty caviling about whether the CDC was right or wrong in lifting mask mandates, full of columns by those who knew infinitely more and better, full of fearmongering, red warning lights blinking rapidly, undermining any sense of national solidarity—and I’m not speaking just about Red states, either.
Safety! Safety! Safety! they kept on wailing to the safest people in the world.
Petty, petty, petty was my response.
The Delta variant may be coming our local way, so what do we do? Shut the doors of our minds and hearts, resolved to up our safety level more and more and more and more? Is this what it means to live and practice in the safest area in the richest country in the world? If we have to close up, how do we keep our hearts open? If we have to mask up again, how do we stay aware of what other families need? And even as we accept physical limitations in order to avoid getting sick, how do we continue to reach out?
As my mom said: “Give my love to everybody.”
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.