I admit that I counted my proverbial chickens.
Once the distribution of the COVID vaccine was well underway in the U.S., I thought the pandemic would soon be over here. Bursting with optimism, I changed the tagline of my Staying Power newsletter from “Your Virtual Care Package for the Pandemic” to “A Virtual Care Package from Phyllis Cole-Dai.” After getting my shots, I reopened my schedule to in-person gigs. I stowed my masks for the next pandemic, which is sure to come someday. I hugged relatives and friends again, holding them extra tight and long.
Little did I know that my confidence was premature. Too many of the proverbial chicks haven’t hatched from their eggs.
COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are surging again in nearly every state, especially in areas with large numbers of unvaccinated people. This escalation has been fueled by the more contagious and deadly Delta variant. As I’m writing, 61% of all counties in this nation have “high” community transmission, up 15% from a week ago. Another 34% of counties report either “substantial” or “moderate” transmission. That leaves only 5% of counties with “low” spread. Glance at a national map showing these rates, and the country looks like it’s on fire. (Check out the numbers for yourself. They’ll probably be higher by the time you read this.)
To end this pandemic, once and for all, we need more people to take advantage of the vaccine. People who are strangers to me, but about whom I care. People I love, like my aunt, several cousins, and a few of my friends. People I don’t want to get sick. People I don’t want to become long-haulers. People whose funerals I don’t want to attend on Zoom. People who, at least on this subject, won’t listen to reason.
I can’t persuade them to get a vaccine. I can’t compel them. I can’t entice them. What am I to do?
The answer is simple, but not pretty: I must let them be. And part of “letting them be” is letting go of my resentment of their choice.
Believe me, I’ve stored up plenty of resentments. All of them are the children of my grief. I want the unvaccinated to attach more value to their lives and the lives of others. I want them to invest more of their precious personal freedom in the well-being of their communities. I want them to think less about politics and focus more on health. I want them to set aside their hostility toward government and acknowledge that public institutions can be helpful, especially during a national crisis. I want them to be more considerate of the health care workers who are drowning in a sea of patients afflicted by (what is now) a largely avoidable disease. I want them to put more trust in evidence-based and data-driven science. If they believe in God, I want them to believe in a God who loves the world enough to save it through a needle.
But they don’t. Most likely they never will.
I must let them be.
Sometimes, when we love someone, letting go is all we can do. That can be brutally difficult, especially when harm may result. For me, loving the unvaccinated is a lot like loving a serious drug addict whose only hope is hitting bottom. I have to let them fall. They might not survive the landing. But just maybe they’ll see enough light on the way down to save themselves.
Love is a practice. Love is prayer. Love is paying attention. And sometimes love is letting go of our desperate need for eggs to hatch into chickens.
Love’s a hard, hard thing. It reminds us daily that we’re not in charge. It breaks our heart, over and over again.
But love is what I choose. I won’t give it up, even when the flood is raging. Even when people are stranded on their rooftops, water rising all around them, and still they insist, “It’s no big deal, we won’t be swept away. Mind your own business.” Even then, when I’ve no means to bring them to safety—when all I can do is bear witness to them, and hope with all my heart for their rescue—I choose love.
I’m reminded of a song called “You Can Do This Hard Thing,” by Carrie Newcomer. Here are a few lines from the heart of it:
Here we stand breathless
and pressed in hard times,
hearts hung like laundry
on backyard clotheslines.
Impossible just takes
a little more time.
“Impossible just takes / a little more time.” Well, I’ve got time to give. And I’ve still got my masks to wear. And I’ve still got my bewildered heart, ready to love another day more.
Who knows when another egg might crack open.