I cried when I got my second Covid-19 shot.
Not a lot.
Just a few drops.
But the flood of emotions I felt that accompanied that tiny pinch in my arm was totally unexpected.
It was like I gasped for breath and hadn’t realized until then that I was suffocating.
I looked up at the volunteer who had injected me to see if she’d noticed, but it’s hard to read someone’s expression under a mask.
So I found myself shrugging the feeling off, giving her a brisk “Thank you” and heading off to file my paperwork, get another stamp on my vaccination card and plopping in a chair for 15 minutes of observation before heading on my way.
As I sat there, I started to feel this growing sense of excitement in my chest.
Two weeks, I thought.
In two weeks I will be fully vaccinated.
Moderna is 94.1% effective at preventing infection. That means I should be able to return to school and teach my students in-person. Safely.
Some of them have been back in the classroom for weeks now, but I’ve had to stay remote putting up assignments in Google Classroom for the sub to teach.
My pre-existing health conditions make me too susceptible to the virus to take chances with stuffy classrooms and interacting with tens of students for prolonged periods every day.
So instead I spend my daylight hours grading virtual papers and writing digital comments, but I only get to hear student voices on Fridays when all classes are conducted remotely.
Rarely do I get to see a face in one of those austere Zoom boxes.
It’s a lonely life being sidelined this way.
But there seems to be an end in sight.
I can actually plot it on the calendar.
THAT day I can return.
And I wonder, is this hope?
I haven’t really felt anything like it in quite a while.
The world has been such a mess for so long.
A global pandemic that’s infected nearly 29 million Americans and killed 523,000 is bad enough. But it’s the constant bungling of local, state and federal governments response to the virus that has been absolutely demoralizing.
In fact, my second shot was delayed a week because health officials accidentally gave out the dose that had been set aside for me to someone else.
Thankfully waiting an extra 7 days isn’t supposed to have any ill effects. But that’s a week more I have to be out of the classroom and burning my sick days, trying to do 40 hours worth of work in the handful of hours the district allows me.
It’s just that this isn’t an anomaly. All through this process those in charge have dropped the ball.
At every step – bungled, mismanaged, and carelessly misjudged.
The school board refused to value my health and reopened recklessly even putting the community’s own children in danger. The state refused to mandate almost anything to keep people safe, instead offering a truckload of take-it-or-leave-it suggestions.
Hope, I thought. Is it possible to believe in hope anymore?
Barack Obama made it a campaign slogan. Hope and change.
His book was “The Audacity of Hope.”
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”
These words ring so empty today after a presidency full of promises and very little else.
True, much of his domestic agenda was blocked by Republicans. But even when they couldn’t stop him from getting things done, the results were often disappointing. His foreign policy was hawkish full of drone strikes, his immigration policy unduly cruel and his education programs were the fever dreams of Milton Friedman made real – charter schools, high stakes testing and ed tech handouts.
You think Trump was bad!? He was the logical consequence of dashed hopes and neoliberal triumphs. You can’t run, as Obama did, as a once-in-a-lifetime transformational candidate and then legislate to support a status quo that is destroying the majority of Americans.
At least now the pendulum has swung back the other way. We’ve got Biden.
Cool, smooth, dependable Biden.
He’s slowly reversing the catastrophes of Trump while quietly committing a few of his own along the way. (Reopening school buildings without mandating the opportunity for teachers to be vaccinated first!? Requiring standardized testing to tell if students have been affected by the pandemic!?)
How does one continue to hope in the wake of such disappointment?
The fabric of our society and our governmental institutions are frayed to the breaking point. They could fall apart any day now.
How does one continue to hope in light of all this?
My phone buzzes. I shake my head to dispel all these gloomy thoughts.
Well! Here’s some good news. Apparently there are no ill effects from the shot. Time to go.
I stand up and look around at the busy vaccination center.
Volunteers continue to welcome patients. They’re much more organized than when I got my first shot only weeks earlier.
Everyone is friendly and there’s even a sparkle in their eyes.
What is that sparkle?
Why does everyone smile?
Why did I cry?
There’s only one possibility.
The teardrop that escaped my eye wasn’t a response to any pain from the injection. It was pain at the possibility that all this would end.
It was the feeling – the certainty – that the pandemic was only temporary and that I would come out the other side. We all would.
Because in the part of our hearts where hope grows, the past doesn’t matter.
What’s happened is always past.
The only thing that counts is the future.
And when you have a future you have to hope.
It’s simply built in. There’s no way around it.
It would be easier not to hope. But the only way to do that is to die, and apparently I’m going to live.
So you pick yourself up, you dust off your knees and you get to the work ahead.
Because no matter how disappointing the past, how demoralizing the events you’ve lived through, there is always the possibility that things will be better tomorrow.
If only you work to make it so.
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