This Year’s Wellness Exam

For our flu shots, my wife and I drive eight familiar miles, basically the route to a school where she taught, and the placid, ordinary neighborhoods and business locales we’ve passed through a thousand times are no longer friendly. The habit of isolation colors what we see. It dims the glare of familiarity and reveals dangers. Isolation is something like hiding.

We’re in a mood, you might say, going to expose ourselves to what a busy Pharmacy encloses, its air, its merchandise, and its people. It will be the first building we enter besides our house and our grandchildren’s home in seven months. The CDC Covid-19 categorizes us as among the most vulnerable to fatality from it: over 70 years old with adverse physical conditions. Obviously, everyone on earth is subject to it also, “7.8 billion as of September 2020 according to the most recent United Nations’ estimates…by Worldometer,” but also obviously we are NOT “all in this together” as spokespeople for our ineffectual governing bodies claim.

Not here, not in Dayton, not in Ohio, not anywhere in the US. Not in the sense that we are all doing our best to counter the threat, to work for its elimination, to help as many fellow citizens as possible to survive. Mutual purpose, concern, and respect are absent. Discovering that this kind of unity does not exist has replaced trust with fear, insecurity, anger and depression.

What is the meaning of the videos showing mask-less crowds jamming together at beaches, restaurants, bars, parties, and political rallies? It’s the same meaning my daily hikes teach. Encountering others walking or biking is usually not much of a problem. But some people do nothing to assure safe distance. Some unleash their dogs, which can carry the virus, allowing them to run free and even jump on other people. A few block narrow passages, do nothing when requested to make room in which to pass, and a few even curse someone asking to get by.

What justifies such behavior? Television newscasts have often aired this answer: I have rights and I will exercise them. I will gather as closely as I want with other people, I will go without a mask, I will not quarantine myself, and if others happen to get Covid-19 from the coronavirus I might carry, they are just unfortunate collateral damage. My rights are sacred. Your life is not as important as my rights. In fact, I’ve seen bumper stickers that say, “I don’t give a fuck about your feelings.” Meaning? Basically, your life means nothing to me.

Certainly such thinking existed before, but not to the extent it does now. Until this pandemic, an emphasis on ME, on MY rights superseding the rights of other people, would have faced overwhelming derision. Most people would have embarrassed themselves expressing it, and American courts and politicians would have condemned it. It was commonly understood that every right has limits. The “original author…[of] the State of World Liberty Index…defines ‘freedom’ as ‘the ability for the individual to live their lives as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same.'”

The last clause of that statement is what our nation taught and few citizen’s questioned until now. Not applying it during a pandemic has effects as bad as the virus. What vaccine can protect us from this inhumane, selfish attitude?

Bill Vernon studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. His fiction and nonfiction occasionally appear in journals and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel, Old Town. Read other articles by Bill.