The Force Multiplier of Perpetual Optimism
Focusing on what is still super, even if you didn't watch The Super Bowl
I got my first vaccine shot Friday!
Because my wife Kate and I are caretakers of a son with autism, we were moved up in the eligibility line. Ironically, because of California policies, so far our adult son himself remains ineligible. Because of our age and other factors, in our household Kate and I are the most susceptible to long-term ill effects from contracting Covid, but two of our three kids also have significant health issues. Like all of us, we look forward to seeing the second vaccine shot jab the arms of all family members, more for our safety than because we need to travel or attend parties.
Today’s bright sunshine that is visiting California, and I hope wherever you are, makes us naturally more optimistic. With regard to vaccinations, we will learn in the coming weeks and months if that optimism is warranted. From what I read in the news, and from what I see on social media of my older friends getting vaccinated, we are moving in the right direction. When I talked to my 91 year-old friend Hannah Stein last week (she’s one of my favorite local poets, and she has a new book out!), she told me that the shot didn’t hurt, as if I were one of the ones who was afraid of vaccines. Let it hurt, I said to myself, for then I know it’s working.
Believe it or not, as of February 7th, 2021, 12.45 doses have been administered per 100 people in the United States. We are far behind Israel, which has administered an impressive 64.3 Covid-19 vaccine doses per 100 people, but we are taking positive steps. As Colin Powell says, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
We know that the pain is felt by individuals, rather than in the aggregate, and I myself can think of people close to me who have succumbed to that pain, and who are wrestling with it right now. We all know someone whose circle has been touched by Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean that the difficulties have been evenly distributed. Reflecting on interviews for a first assignment in my journalism class this quarter, one of my students wrote this astounding sentence about one of her interviewees: “Many people in Garcia’s family have caught the virus, including herself, her mother, her brother, her cousins, her aunts, and uncles.” My student argues correctly that people with front-line jobs, whether working in the health care industry or even in a grocery store, are repeatedly exposed to the virus, and then they bring that exposure home to share, sometimes with families who live in close quarters. As the death toll grows, those of us who have dodged the Covid bullet should always remember those who hear “gunfire” every day.
I recognize how lucky I am. People like me interact with colleagues and students only via Zoom. One of my students from a class I taught last spring impressed me so much that this quarter I hired him, and we have been working on writing and organizational projects twice a week since. Even though this student lives about two blocks from me, and I meet with him regularly, collaborating with him on my bonus work of 2021, I have actually not “met” him in person. Depending on how we define terms, we don’t really “meet” with people anymore. For example, I give and get hugs in this household all the time, but likely the last time I hugged someone other than these four was not this February, but last February.
I did meet someone new for a brief conversation on the street yesterday. As I was walking to Sunday morning meditation in Chestnut Park in East Davis, I encountered a man in his early 70s who seemed perplexed and amused that his dachshund had left his yard to walk across the street to say hello to me, showing the sort of fickleness that we typically ascribe to cats. I asked the man if he wanted me to scoop up his little dog and return him, but the man said no, the dog just wanted to sniff around, and that soon he would come back home (this was a cul-de-sac side street with no car traffic). I told him that his dog was cute, and that I hoped he would have a good Sunday. And then, speaking of Sunday, with a detectible tinge of loneliness in his eyes, the man asked me if I was going to watch “The Game.”
Sporting events for many people, especially men, function in many ways: the spectacle, the competition, the statistics, the heroic players, the mystery about the outcome, the athleticism, etc. But I suspect for many people, again especially men, sports teams and events provide a ready topic of discussion, a way to connect, and an excuse to socialize. I felt instant sympathy for this elderly sports fan. Was the dachshund this man’s only company over the last year? How much did he crave a man-to-man talk about sports? Perhaps he watches ESPN the way that many people I know in 2020 watched MSNBC.
Either way, I was not the sports fan he was looking for. When he asked if I planned to watch the game, I told him that I would check in with the family. When I checked in with Jukie Sunday afternoon, he indicated that he was eager for a walk, so walk we did, passing through neighborhood after neighborhood where we overheard many blaring TVs, but not much laughter or cheering. In Davis, I suspect, we keep our distance so that we survive our parties, and for most of us, that means another season of isolation, another season of patience. The vaccination numbers should give us hope, and reason to be optimistic. Let’s hope our patience pays off! For you and your families, may the future reunions – as well as the plays, the comedy nights, and the pub quizzes – be all the more sweet because of the past year full of distracting delays that compete for our many available hours.
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P.S. Here are four questions from last week’s quiz:
Wonder Women. The character of Wonder Woman appeared in comic books in the same year that Helen Reddy and Ann Margaret were born. Name the decade.
Name the Bob. First name Bob, who said the following? “I've never been able to understand the seriousness of it all, the seriousness of pride. People talk, act, live as if they're never going to die. And what do they leave behind? Nothing. Nothing but a mask.”
Pop Culture – Music. Introduced by Leonard Bernstein, what still-living cellist played for President Kennedy in 1963, accompanied by his sister on piano?
Science. The CO in the word COVID stands for “Coronavirus.” What does the D stand for?
P.P.S. Good advice from Tennessee Williams: "My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life. I try to work every day because you have no refuge but writing. When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing."