The Hope Squad

I recently spent a day volunteering at the vaccination center that has opened near my home.  I was assigned to the front door in a sort of Wal-Mart greeter position. I would call out the appointment times in five-minute increments, ask everyone who entered, “Do you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath?” and distribute information about what to expect after receiving a vaccine. I answered questions as best I could and tried to keep the lines moving.

I was utterly blown away by how quickly a former craft store was transformed into a pop-up medical facility, structured down to the last detail to ensure patient safety and comfort. Volunteers took temperatures, registered patients, and provided assistance wherever needed. Clinical volunteers, many doing this in addition to their paid jobs, vaccinated patients and oversaw the post-vaccination waiting area. A young woman interpreter accompanied Spanish-speaking patients throughout the entire process, offering explanations and reassurance.

During this past year, I have been holed up in my house, watching the pandemic unfold on a screen. But getting just a tiny glimpse of how we have come together to fix this nightmare was a revelation. I mean, who figured all this out in such a short time? Transforming empty stores, installing wi-fi networks and computers, providing security for vaccine transport, creating appointment websites, organizing hundreds of volunteers, making sure all of the paperwork is correct– the list is endless. And this is happening in communities all across the country.  A year ago, even six months ago, we had no idea that we’d be vaccinating the entire population, let alone developing a plan about how to do it.

What I saw on my first day as a Hope Squad volunteer was nothing short of a miracle, and I will admit, I struggle with those who whine and criticize the efforts being made by our government, flawed as it may be. There are hundreds of thousands of dedicated people–from the brilliant researchers who developed the vaccines to the lovely gentleman providing wheelchair assistance at the local center who are helping to save lives every single day. I think in this world of “if-it’s-not-my-political-party-it-has-to-be-wrong” attitude, it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re actually accomplishing together as a country.

The Hope Squad is great branding and a catchy name to encourage volunteerism. But it also describes what I saw taking place in a former AC Moore store a few miles from where I live. It didn’t matter who you were or what the hat you were wearing said—if you had an appointment, you were warmly welcomed and received a life-saving vaccination. If you didn’t have an appointment, information was provided to help you get one. Everyone who entered was treated with kindness, respect, and understanding. The faces I saw coming through those doors reflected anxiety and apprehension but also relief and gratitude. Having the opportunity to experience this first-hand gave me hope in a year that’s felt bleak and depressing in so many ways.    

The Gift of the Ordinary

I recently received an invitation to a bridal shower for my best friend’s future daughter-in-law, and it dawned on me that for the first time in a year, I could say yes to a social event. That there was even a social event occurring was cause for celebration. I was excited to write something on my calendar that was not a zoom meeting or vet appointment, and I immediately ran out to Target to buy a gift from the bride’s registry. I now have a reason to wear clothing other than jeans and go somewhere. The fact that, thanks to the timing of my vaccinations, I can safely be in a room with other people, albeit still masked and socially-distanced, leaves me humbled and grateful beyond words.

It’s been a long year of no’s. No family gatherings, no churches, no singing, no movies, no restaurants, no concerts, no travel, no sports. And when we do venture outside our homes, it’s with fear and trepidation. Do we have our masks and sanitizers? How close is that person I hear coughing in the grocery store? Is that a fever or am I just too warm? The high-tension wire of anxiety pulses through every interaction.

We have become acclimated to hiding. As much as we anticipate getting back to the things we love, I sometimes wonder if we’ll return to all those pre-pandemic in-person meetings and events. Has being plopped in front of the TV or computer screen each evening become just a little too comfortable and when those activities resume, will we say, “Nah, I’m not sure I need to do that anymore.”? This year has been an eternal snow day, which I used to revel in, but now I’ve had enough of the hermit life.

The weddings and graduations and packed stadiums and theaters will come back. But it’s the mundane stuff of our daily lives that shapes us and provides a structure so subtle we’re unaware of it until it’s suddenly taken away. Two months back into normalcy I’ll probably be whining about long choir rehearsals or some pointless meeting. But I’ll never again take those things for granted.

This weekend, for the first time in months, my husband and I ate inside a restaurant. Nothing fancy—just comfort food in a hometown place with plastic menus and cozy booths, now separated by plexiglass dividers. But the food was hot and fresh from the kitchen instead of lukewarm from a Styrofoam go-box. We’ve been living lukewarm from a plastic box for way longer than any of us expected. These tiny sparks of normal life—a simple restaurant meal served by another human being, a chance to celebrate a young bride in the company of others—are precious gifts of the ordinary, meant to be savored and appreciated as never before.

Dispatch from Ft. Quarantine

As I write this, someone is doing my grocery shopping for me. I am reminded how incredibly privileged I am to be able to choose whatever I want to eat for the next week from an app on my phone and have it promptly delivered to my home. Thank you to everyone, especially the hourly workers, for making this possible.

It has been a week of sharp contrasts. A week filled with the joy of puppy-hood, of being around a creature for whom the simplest things—a romp in the grass, chewing on socks, eating supper—are causes for celebration. We could all take a lesson except for the chewing on socks part.

It’s also been a week for sober reflection. I feel like I’m still recovering from watching my fellow citizens wreak havoc and violence on the building that represents democracy, not only to our country, but to the world. Frankly, I’m terrified for what may happen at the Inauguration. As has been made all too clear, nothing is beyond the reach of the evil political forces raging war on this country right now.

And then as we were getting ready for bed one night, one of us got an email that we had tested positive for Covid. Huh? No, wait, that can’t be right, especially since the other of us had gotten a negative result earlier in the day. We’re fine, we feel great. We only got tested as a precaution because someone who had been working in our home called to tell us they were experiencing symptoms.

Lysol-ing bathrooms at midnight. Texting the few people with whom we had had contact in recent days. Getting conflicting messages—is it ten days or fourteen days? Is it from time of exposure or time of testing? Panic and fear and frustration that after doing everything right, the virus still found us, just like it did the millions of others who were playing by the rules. I remember seeing a friend’s post from early in the pandemic that said sooner or later, we’re probably all going to get it. True words.

So far, we remain symptom-free, thanks be to God. We separate ourselves with a guest room and second bathroom and use different tables for meals. We scrubbed every surface in the house, wear masks when we’re in the same room and are hoping for the best, knowing that so many around us don’t have the same opportunity to comfortably quarantine in their homes. Was the testing accurate? Who knows? We can only make decisions based on the knowledge that we’re given. Assuming the exposure date is correct, we should be on the home stretch.

If you would have told me a year ago that we’d be living like this, I wouldn’t have believed you. Or that going to church, singing in a choir, or enjoying a restaurant meal would be forbidden. That games would be played in empty arenas accompanied by the eerie computer-generated sounds of crowds. That national guard soldiers would be sleeping in the halls of the Capitol to protect the lives of legislators, and the celebration of a new President taking office would be fraught with danger. That 400,000 lives would be lost to a disease terrible beyond anything imaginable.

Huh? No, wait, that can’t be right. Bad dream, dystopian movie, could never happen here. But it has, and right now, our country does not feel fine, nor does it feel great. I just hope we’re on the home stretch with this, too.

What I’ve Learned from Quarantine, Part 2

I wrote about what I learned from quarantine way back in the spring and thought I’d revisit, now that we’re closing the books on 2020.

I am incredibly grateful for my health.

I never dreamed the new reading chair I bought in fall of 2019 would get so much use.

Our twenty-three-year-old, no-repairs-ever-and-still-going-strong dishwasher should be in the appliance hall of fame.

I don’t know if it’s a result of the pandemic or my age or having endured a year of the ghastly festering wound that is American politics, but my tolerance for artificiality and spin is at its lowest ebb. Speak honestly, be real, and please, lose the buzzwords.

My new bread machine is significantly more advanced than its 90’s predecessor but still has a tendency to want to hurl itself off the counter in a frenzy of over-enthusiastic kneading.

Sitting back and watching the world on a screen instead of living in it is frustrating, and yet, I’ve learned a lot from being a quiet observer.

There are wonderfully kind and knowledgeable Comcast customer service representatives. Seriously. So many are working so hard trying to get it right.

Much as we love supporting restaurants with take-out orders, it’s just not the same eating the meals at home at your own kitchen table.

I am very much a creature of habit. In a world where familiar structure and routine have been upended,  I find myself clinging to those habits even more fiercely. That being said, I’ve also learned to appreciate  new and different ways to accomplish something that I may have resisted in “normal times.”

I always feel awkward in zoom meetings—not knowing when to talk or accidentally interrupting someone who decides to talk at the same time. Meanwhile, the cat is lurking on the back of my chair or padding across the keyboard.

Technology, love it or hate it, has flat-out saved our butts this year. Same to be said for streaming TV.

I am determined to use the calendar on my phone instead of my trusty pocket planner even though I could write things down in half the time it takes me to text in all this stuff and scroll through the start and stop times. And there will be no stickers, ever.

Even though I will forever miss them, I am relieved not to be shepherding elderly parents through a pandemic. I know friends who are on that journey and cannot imagine their pain and isolation.

I’ve learned so much (including South African slang) from my online writers group of Chicago-based ladies who have very different backgrounds from mine.

When this is over, I may need a 12-step group for addiction to online Scrabble and Solitaire.

I greatly miss in-person worship. But the view from the virtual pews of other churches, especially the Washington National Cathedral, is reshaping my faith in surprising ways.

Sometimes I need one of those signs found in senior facilities that remind residents what day it is, what activities are planned and when happy hour starts.

You’re never too old for new life, even if it’s in the form of a puppy. (Check back with me in a month and see where I am on this.)

Wishing all of us some form of new life in this next and has-to-be-better year.