Please remember my comment policy. Also, I’ve slightly revised this post to remove some language that might have been taken as condescending toward people who don’t share my views — that was fully unintentional. I also changed controversial phrasing “for the common good” to “taking care of each other,” which better captures my intent.
I’ve been masking up again when inside public spaces. I’m doing it because of news reports that vaccinated people like me are still able to carry the virus, especially the Delta variant. But when I wander masked around the grocery store, most people unmasked, it feels much more like a symbolic gesture and a statement of my beliefs.
While I was on the Ride Across Indiana I forgot to bring a mask, which wasn’t the end of the world because I was entirely alone the vast majority of the time. However, I did eat breakfast and dinner inside restaurants. Also, when I got that flat tire and in the repair lost the nut and bolt that secures my coaster brake, I did walk into a hardware store for a replacement. Even then, I was reasonably certain I wasn’t making anyone sick, because I had this:
The week before my Ride Across Indiana, I felt exhausted and I had a stuffy nose. It was bad enough that I took a full day and a couple partial days off work that week. I got a COVID test and, thankfully, it came back negative.
I think I was just suffering from stress. Work has been a skull crusher lately. I wasn’t fully recovered when I started the Ride Across Indiana, but I pressed on anyway. But I’m not here to write about work or the ride. I’m here to write about the new COVID spike in Indiana.
News organizations across Indiana are calling this “the Delta spike,” which seems fair. I’ve heard government leaders call it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” which is pithy and sure sounds like it oughta be true. Yet in Indiana, vaccination rates have stalled:
That represents just over 3 million fully vaccinated Hoosiers, when the state has 6.7 million residents. Less than half of us are vaccinated.
Some of my connections on Facebook have ranted against the stupidity of the unvaccinated. Some of them have pointed their fingers squarely at the conservative media machine that’s feeding them the talking points they’re using to justify their anti-mask and anti-vax positions. But who on this side of the mask/vax fence is trying to understand where they’re coming from, and to build bridges to them?
Last Saturday morning as I prepared for the last day of my Ride Across Indiana, I had breakfast in a truck stop restaurant. Truck stops and and Waffle Houses are my secret pleasure when I’m on the road!
This large restaurant had just four people in it: the cook, the waitress, me, and a fellow the waitress chatted up so familiarly that he must have been a regular. They spoke at length of the vaccine and all of the reasons they wouldn’t take it. They repeated all of the talking points from conservative media, sometimes even in their own words. But it was easy to tell that they very much enjoyed these common beliefs and the feeling of a bond, of being on the same team, that they created.
The waitress said that she was in nursing school, close to graduation, but that she was unemployable because she wouldn’t be vaccinated. She also said that her mother, also a nurse, faced losing her job at a big hospital in Indianapolis because she wouldn’t take the vaccine either. The waitress and the fellow lamented the sad state of personal freedom in this country.
I was relieved that they never asked my opinion. I’m not sure what I would have said, as I couldn’t disagree with them more and wasn’t interested in an argument. It’s not about personal freedom, it’s about us taking care of each other. I seriously doubt their assertions that these vaccines are insufficiently tested, that they’re insufficiently effective, and that they can be deadly. I don’t fancy myself an expert in immunology or vaccine science, but in the end I have more faith in the CDC than I do in conservative media or in hearsay — even hearsay from people I trust.
What seemed clear to me, however, was that these two people believed that they couldn’t trust their government, and that they felt like the side of all of this that I’m on are alien to core American values.
I’m not sure I can trust my government, either, but I do not believe agencies like the CDC to be meaningfully corrupt. Therefore, I choose to have faith in the CDC’s guidance. And I think that American values need to expand beyond personal freedom to caring for each other. But therein lies the divide.
How did we get this way as a country? More importantly, how do we find out way back to unity? Even more importantly, what are you doing to encourage it? I worry that this fracturing of our national unity could well be our undoing as a nation, and how we lose our primary world power status to China in the coming years.
Regardless of which side you’re on, we all need to build bridges.