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  • Jan Flynn

I Just Want To Get Along

But it’s getting harder

We had our kitchen cabinets painted this week. The painting contractor, a very nice man whose services we’d used years ago when we lived here previously, gave us an estimate that made our eyes pop, but that’s what good work costs these days. And his guys were good. They showed up on time, pretty much, every day, and did their work with care and skill. They treated us, our possessions, and our house with respect.

With one exception. Midway into their first morning, my husband thought it prudent to make sure they were vaccinated since none of them were wearing a mask.

They were not.

The previous evening, we’d had a phone call with the contractor regarding scheduling. He mentioned that his partner in the business, a man who was in his late fifties or early sixties, had succumbed to COVID a week and a half previously. Such a shock.

So it was something of a gob smacker to have these guys walk into our home, unmasked and unvaxxed. They were perfectly willing to comply with our request to wear masks, and they were diligent about doing so for the rest of the week, at least when we were home.

But still. They were inside our house! All three of them seemed polite and friendly enough, as long as we stuck to the business at hand. I have no doubt they think of themselves as good guys.

At the end of the week when the job was done, Mr. Contractor came by to inspect the work and make sure we were satisfied. When he arrived I was in the front yard planting next year’s tulips (a quixotic effort, since the local deer think tulips are delicious, but I dream the impossible dream). He asked me how I felt about the paint job. I complimented him on the result and his crew.

“There’s one thing I have to say, though,” I began, and his expression changed to deep concern. Mr. Contractor is a very pleasant and earnest man. “Please let your guys know that, when they’re entering people’s homes, they need to wear masks. We found out they’re not vaccinated, and we shouldn’t really have had to tell them.”

Mr. C looked as though he were taking in a novel thought. “Oh,” he said, “That’s good to know. Yes, I’ll share that with them.” He nodded gravely for a moment, and then added, “Would you be more comfortable if I wore a mask when I go in?”

I was taken aback. “Are you vaccinated?” I asked. There’s no way not to be blunt with this question.

He wasn’t.

In the toxicity of the current zeitgeist, we’re all walking on eggshells around one another. At least until we can get a read on what side of which yawning divide our fellow human lands. Red or blue? Fox News or MSNBC? Rainbow flag or Don’t Tread On Me?

Masks and vaccinations or government intrusion?

Once we’ve determined that the other person is in the opposite camp, most of us know better than to try to convince them that our stance is the correct one. If we think we’re doing someone a favor by illuminating them with our perspective, we’ve either been living under a rock or had too much to drink. But in this instance, I was so dazed by the situational illogic that my inside voice went outside.

“But, dude,” I said, almost in a whisper. “Your partner just died.” Yes, I was appalled, but I was also worried for Mr. C. He’s no spring chicken either.

“I know, and that’s very sad,” he said, apparently sensing my concern, “but I’ll tell you why I’m not vaccinated.” With that, he went on to explain to me about the health consultant he sees, a professional in whom he has great confidence, and who has placed him on a regimen of colloidal silver supplements. “It’s highly beneficial,” Mr. C assured me, “and it’s a virus killer. It’s been used for centuries in China. And also, I have a lot of faith.”

Google colloidal silver — a substance in which tiny particles of silver are suspended in a liquid — and you will quickly find explanations from the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, and Web MD that colloidal silver has no benefits when taken internally and can cause damage. It used to be marketed as an over-the-counter remedy for a host of maladies until the FDA declared it unsafe. It’s still available as a dietary supplement, however, since that’s outside the FDA’s purview. Silver, unlike some other minerals, is not required by the body and has no beneficial effect on its tissues. Instead, its prolonged use can result in a condition known as argyria, in which your skin turns blue in patches. And stays blue, even if you stop taking the stuff. At very high doses, colloidal silver can cause more serious trouble — like seizures or organ damage. But it’s among the substances — such as malaria medications, horse de-wormer, or bleach — that have been touted as preventive against COVID despite the frustrated warnings of doctors.

“Yes, I’ve heard of it,” I said, and shut up. Trying to debate in these instances is useless and can be perilous. Besides, another cultural divide had reared its head: science or faith? How in the world did it become an either-or choice between the two?

Mr. C trotted out to his truck to retrieve his mask before he went indoors. “Be well,” I called to him after he’d completed his inspection and was leaving. And I meant it. I’d be very sad if Mr. C suffered from a preventable disease or, worse, died from it.

I’m not such a saint, however, as to not wish that the quack who is taking his money for the colloidal snake oil would get a big walloping case of COVID. Luckily, my imagination has no such powers.

The same week, I submitted an article to an online publication for whom I’ve written previously. It was a version of another blog post I wrote, a lighthearted little gratitude meditation on a uniquely human facial feature, our lips. At its outset, I mention that we haven’t seen a lot of each others’ lips since thinking people have been covering half their faces since the pandemic began. That’s all the article said about masks or COVID.

The editor sent me a note, declining my article. She objected to my treating people in a derogatory manner. In addition, she said, there is no evidence that facemasks are any protection from anything.

Again I was flummoxed. So, surgeons wear masks just to look cool? I wanted to say, but did not. I replied politely that it is never my intention to be derogatory toward anyone, and that perhaps our perspectives are too far apart for me to be an appropriate writer for her publication.

In today’s hyper-sensitive, hair-trigger climate, it’s getting harder to find any middle ground that we don’t feel the need to fight over. Meanwhile, as we’re arguing from assumptions so far apart that they’re impermeable to each other, people are dying. It challenges my most cherished beliefs about humankind.

Think of all the scifi movies —Independence Day, War of the Worlds, and a host of others — wherein evil space aliens descend upon Earth, determined to enslave or destroy all of humanity. There’s probably a mad scientist or misguided leader or greedy corporation standing in the way of salvation at first. Eventually, though, everybody figures out they have to put aside their squabbles. Their divisions are clearly petty in comparison to the threat facing them all. The humans unite against their common foe and save the day, or Tokyo, or Earth.

So why aren’t we doing that now? Is this because we can’t see the virus, and few of us have had to step around bodies or gurneys filled with our suffering fellows? If the SARS-Co-V2 virus was the size of a Komodo dragon and arrived in a bristling spaceship, would we behave differently?

We’re coming up on the third calendar year in which we’re battling a deadly enemy we could have beaten by now. The White House hasn’t been squashed by a mother ship, but the world has lost just under five million people to COVID — 745 thousand of them here in the US — and every single person alive on the planet has had their life changed, disrupted, or constricted to some extent. Everyone has suffered.

Like in a scifi flick, the good guys have figured out how to defeat the foe. But we earthlings can’t seem to get on the same page. A good number of us don’t believe the enemy exists at all. Or if it does, it’s an evil machination dreamed up by The Other Side, with the intent to trap us all behind face masks and stick who knows what poisons or microchips into our arms.

How do we get ourselves out of this snarl? What will it take for us to trust one another again, or agree on any basic assumptions? Who can get us to pull together when it seems profit-driven algorithms are so invested in pulling us apart?

I wish I knew. Right now I wonder what would happen if the evil space beings really did show up with their Acme ray-guns. Would we fight for each other? Or try to be the first to recruit the invaders to our side so we could defeat the real enemy — the people we can’t tolerate?

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