Op/Ed

Ways of seeing: Vaccine leads to togetherness

JOANNA COLWELL

I just returned from a truly glorious weekend in Stonington, Conn., where I went for a funeral. “Always go to the funeral” is a piece of advice someone gave me a long time ago. This wise person said, “Many people avoid funerals and avoid grieving people because death and grief make us uncomfortable. But don’t let those difficult feelings stop you from showing up for people who have suffered a loss.” These words came back to me when I saw my friend Ruth’s face in the crowd at my mother-in-law’s memorial service many years ago. Her presence in that room full of people made me feel supported and loved.

Since that day, if I can possibly manage it, I go to the funeral. This memorial service in Connecticut was for the mom of some of my dearest friends, Liz and Annie. I wouldn’t have missed this chance to see them and support them for anything. Their amazing mom Kate Robinson was a true force of nature. She went back to school for her law degree at age 42, when her three kids were old enough to somewhat fend for themselves. Upon passing the Bar, she became a leader in the state’s environmental movement, prosecuting polluters throughout Connecticut and Long Island Sound. She was a lifelong staunch supporter of women’s rights, and when not surrounded by family she could be found trout fishing on a wild river, speaking truth to power, sailing, or photographing tree bark.

The beautiful memorial service ended with the unmistakeable sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, echoing through the historic church. I cried to say goodbye to the Amazing Mrs. Robinson, but I also see so much of Kate in her daughters that I can’t shake the feeling that she didn’t really go anywhere.

After 18 months of social distancing and COVID protocols, seeing and hugging some of my oldest and dearest friends was a balm for my soul. We laughed and talked for hours, and we all rejoiced in having honorary family members who know our history. What a relief to be held, to be vulnerable, to be together. I feel so much gratitude to the scientists and public health workers who brought us the vaccines that made this gathering possible. My heart is full of love for my extended family and for the people whose hard work and brilliant minds made it so I could travel to see my friends!

My wish for all of us is that when we experience a moment of love, be it for a child, a parent, or a dear friend, that we could expand our heart to include those outside our immediate circle of concern. For example, when I hug my daughter, I feel so much love for her, and I can connect with all the other parents who love their children and want what is best for them. It is this unbounded love that makes us so desperately wish for safety for our kids in this perilous moment of COVID and climate change. It is this expanded circle of concern that wants safety for everyone’s families. Safety from police violence, safety from border enforcement, safety from sexual abuse, and safety from this still out of control pandemic.

Here in Vermont, the past several weeks have been marked by surging numbers of COVID cases, outbreaks in many schools, and a tepid response from our Governor’s office. I applaud the 91 people in Vermont’s Department of Health who have been imploring Governor Scott and his administration to rise to this moment and do everything possible to mandate masks in public spaces, guide schools and give them the resources they need to increase ventilation and make their lunchrooms safer, and to keep pushing until our vaccination numbers climb even higher. While we wait for a vaccine to be approved for our youngest Vermonters, we need our leaders to take bold action to keep all of us safe.

The fact that the United States has passed the horrible milestone of 700,000 Americans dead from COVID is almost too painful to take in. We are all exhausted from the constant vigilance, but refusing to enact safety guidelines can’t be an option for those in charge of our state. It’s time to refocus our attention on the population that is now the most vulnerable, our children who are too young to be vaccinated. With the love of our ancestors behind us, may we all take every step possible to protect one another.

Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who founded and directs Otter Creek Yoga, in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Joanna lives with her family in Ripton. When not practicing or teaching yoga, Joanna enjoys cuddling her cat, cooking, serving on the board of WomenSafe, and working with the Middlebury chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Feedback welcome at: joanna@ottercreekyoga.com

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