gift givers in a pandemic

In the months since the pandemic began, we've received all sorts of gifts from friends, neighbors, Michael's former students, childhood buddies and perhaps even strangers: a framed painting of Smellie, a pot of paperwhites, bags of homegrown tomatoes, green beans and white cucumbers, tiny raspberries and strawberries, garden bouquets, a photographer's self-published book, fancy beers, black trumpet mushrooms, kerchiefs and clothes for Calvin, dozens of oysters, fragrant eucalyptus fronds which remind me of San Francisco, jars of peanut butter and honey, bottles of rye, bourbon, wine and bubbly, homemade liver pate, artisanal loaves of bread and cheese, orchard apples, apple pies, dog treats, carrot cake, caramel chocolates, coffee, homemade granola, soup and spice cake. Have I forgotten anything?

No doubt these lovely gifts and their givers have lifted my spirits in the midst of hard times taking care of a teen who can do absolutely nothing by, or for, himself. Sometimes, I get a glimpse of the gift givers, but can't always catch them before they disappear. Other times, I visit with them for awhile from the porch as they stand at least eight feet away, often wearing a mask. No doubt for years, the love, affection and caring from friends and neighbors has sustained us. We are part of an amazing community. I've heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. The fact that we are still here and in relatively good condition, despite the clusterfuck (sorry Gma) that is epilepsy, is a testament to that adage.

In the midst of this rampant pandemic, I feel doubly grateful to live in a state that is doing a good job of controlling Covid-19 levels. In my town and in nearby ones, I see most folks wearing masks in public. The first-year college students at Bowdoin are probably setting the best example, wearing their masks outdoors in groups or putting one on when they pass me on the sidewalk, fields or trails in the woods.

Nearly ten months into this pandemic, cases of coronavirus are rising in almost every state of the nation. Yet weekly, I still hear interviews with people who balk at the notion of wearing masks in public, despite the overwhelming epidemiological evidence that masks are one of the best methods to stop the spread of the virus. Don't they understand that by not wearing a mask—whether they feel healthy or safe or somehow immune—they may be endangering the well-being and lives of others?

Like gift givers, we wear our masks for others more so than for our own protection. That's how it works. Regrettably, mask skeptics cling to the selfish narrative that we all have to take personal responsibility for staying safe from the virus. But, as Americans, isn't our responsibility to be accountable for each other? Isn't that what community means—having each other's backs, watching out and taking care of one another? That was what New Yorkers did when the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11. It's what people did in the wake of hurricane Katrina. It's what demonstrators of every color, class and creed are doing to protest police violence against Black people. It's what folks are doing during the Western wildfires. We are at our best when we help each other. Why should a threatening, runaway and lethal pandemic that has killed over 220,000 Americans be any different?

Some in this nation still stubbornly subscribe to the myth of rugged individualism and its regrettable mantras such as Every man for himself and Don't tread on me. They insist that the simple act of wearing a mask infringes on their personal freedoms or think that it's somehow a sign of weakness. Whatever happened to the notion of personal sacrifice for the sake of others? How did it come to pass that some well-off Americans value their 401Ks more than their fellow Americans' hunger, homelessness, poverty, illness, injustice, everyday struggle? How did a chunk of our nation's people become so hardened, thoughtless and reckless at the expense of their neighbors?

I like to imagine an America in which we are all gift givers: where we unconditionally help the vulnerable and those less fortunate than ourselves; where we help those who find themselves in a bind, unemployed, on the streets, needing a second chance; where we wear masks so that we don't unwittingly infect other people. Just imagine an America where compassion, support and understanding for others reigns over selfishness and petty indignation. We should help each other get through these hard times.

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