Shouldering

Lately I’ve been thinking more than ever about how to convey what I view as an obligation to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. My public health education long ago convinced me that our actions affect other lives, whether it’s wearing seat belts and obeying traffic laws, avoiding pesticides that leak into community water supplies, or not smoking in confined, public spaces.  What I do is important to not only prevent my own injuries or illnesses, but also to decrease their effects on those who depend on me or who are vulnerable, for whatever reason. Never has my awareness of the impact of my own actions been as high as during the past two years of the COVID pandemic.

Having devoted my working years to health care as a nurse, I also feel deep empathy for those working in hospitals, nursing homes, emergency rooms, and other health care facilities. A recent article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic“Hospitals Are in Serious Trouble,”  describes vividly the impact of the pandemic—particularly the Omicron variant surge—on caregivers, especially in hospitals.  

“Omicron’s main threat is its extreme contagiousness,” Yong reports. “It is infecting so many people that even if a smaller proportion need hospital care, the absolute numbers are still enough to saturate the system. It might be less of a threat to individual people, but it’s disastrous for the health-care system that those individuals will ultimately need.”

Yong goes on to point out, “The health-care workforce, which was short-staffed before the pandemic, has been decimated over the past two years.” I want to do all I can to not add to their burden.

I’ve been wrestling with ways to convince people that our personal choices affect others—family, friends, co-workers, teachers, store clerks, caregivers of all kinds. Statistics, research findings, and first-person accounts seem to only go so far, however, to change people’s minds, hearts, and actions. As is often the case, a poet expressed it best for me, and perhaps will touch others, too. Naomi Shihab Nye put my feelings about caring for each other into words in this poem:

Shoulders

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

It’s clear to me that this pandemic is changing the world forever. One of the stanzas in “Shoulders” seems to me to be a warning, a reminder, an appeal to our compassion as we navigate this wide, rainy road.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

5 Comments

  1. love the poem and blog

    Brooks Lopez Island Our art and writing allow us to discover amazement and offer it to others.

    On Fri, Jan 14, 2022 at 6:01 AM Iris Graville – Author wrote:

    > Iris Graville posted: ” Lately I’ve been thinking more than ever about how > to convey what I view as an obligation to protect ourselves and others from > COVID-19. My public health education long ago convinced me that our actions > affect other lives, whether it’s wearing seat b” >

Leave a Reply to gretchenwing Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s