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Vaccines Pull Us Through Winter

The Good Life

COVID kills us. We know that.

Knowing is one thing. Having it brought home is something else altogether.

COVID came home to me last Monday at the DuBois Christian and Missionary Alliance Church’s hall just south of DuBois’ city limits.

Penn Highlands DuBois hospital sponsored a COVID vaccination clinic there. I went.

So did a startlingly white-haired woman in a long black coat. She smiled as I held the entrance door open.

She wasn’t “elderly people.” She was one woman, frail enough to need a wheel-equipped walker. Its frame fit through the doorway, but only awkwardly.

She got the shot. I got the shot. My presumption is that we both prefer to not die from COVID.

As injections go, the shot was unremarkable, about on a par with the influenza vaccination I got in October. Wipe my arm, jab, push the plunger, withdraw, bandage. That’s about it. By bedtime, I had forgotten having been vaccinated. There was nothing worthy of being called “pain.”

But as experiences go, the hour-long visit was sobering.

We aren’t talking that abstract term, “senior citizens.” We are talking men and women. Some use canes or walkers. Some are hunched over from six, seven, eight, even nine decades of being buffeted by life, but not yet just sitting there waiting for death.

These people are my contemporaries. I usually lose track of my age in crowds. I think of myself as in my 50s – until other folks who are my age cross my path. They look 78. I am 78. My 50s were gone a full quarter-century ago.

At the clinic, the attendees easily numbered 50 to 100 people at a time.

Slightly more than half looked to be in my 1-A grouping based on age, 75 or older.

The other people were being leaned against, or holding us up by an elbow, shrinking their own steps to match the shuffling of some of the frailest.

Facial expressions? Smiles, mostly. Smiles for each other. Wide smiles for the nurses, EMTs, hospital staffers and volunteers who make these clinics possible. There were ear-to-ear smiles of relief at a watchful nurse’s “You are free to go now, honey,” marking the end of sitting on a chair, again socially distanced, for the 15-20 minutes to dodge a bad anaphylactic reaction. And there were sounds, joyous call-outs of names as COVID-confined people saw neighbors, former co-workers, friends, church companions, etc.

Death is never far from midwinter gatherings that bring out into the cold our frail, our lame, and our nearly deaf. We have all lived a long, long time.

But death took a back seat last Monday to the love of life which brought us all to that church hall.

One winter ago, COVID cramped us into our homes, creeping across the country in February and March, ravaging New York City and other populated areas in spring, sprawling across our highways, farmlands and rural forested valleys in summer and fall. Schools and churches closed. Jobs either died or went to “remote” status, working from home. Trips to town for groceries or medical needs became short, infrequent, hurried, stone-faced, grim.

I don’ t know whether my exoshell of being a cynic comes naturally or was produced by a half-century as a reporter and editor. But I was not grim as I was swooped and nudged along to registration, fill-the-forms, wait-here, now-move-there procession by people whose s, voices and touches exude kindness that comes through their COVID masks in waves, sometimes more clearly than what they say – or is the muffling of their words just my senioritis hearing again?

I only recognized two of those several dozen people I nodded to at that clinic. But every single one of them treated me as though I had been that neighbor, friend, sibling or parent who in years long past had sold Buddy Poppies or rang a Salvation Army Christmas-season bell when they were kids.

The injection hardly stung at all, so I blamed my blinking eyelids and moistened cheeks on the winter weather. But really, I felt grateful and humbled at being shepherded through this clinic that extends our chances of watching the springtime daffodils and daisies grow before it comes our turn to push them up.

For longer than it takes to bring a baby from conception to birth, we have endured this COVID plague. We survive, but for most of us these months have not been our idea of enjoying life.

But the camaraderie of a clinic gives us hope of getting past surviving, getting back to church, to parades, to concerts and plays, to crowds in parks and at festivals.

COVID has not been our only threat. Politics, once humdrum, has been nasty, brutish this year. We yelled a lot, to each other, at each other, yelled right past each other.

But here comes a COVID clinic. Spring can’t be all that far away. Those thoughts mute that hateful political rhetoric into … what? Paul said it early, and well: “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”

Driving home, I daydreamed of daffodils and daisies.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: notniceman9@gmail.com

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