A dose of gratitude with the coming vaccine

I was surprised by the intensity of my own reaction to first seeing a friend’s social media post of her receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. She is a staff member in a veteran’s hospital in the USA, and as such, was among the first in the public to be inoculated. I, like everyone else in the world, knew it was coming, but there was something different about seeing it happen to someone in my own orbit.  I have to admit I felt a little tinge of jealousy—not just the FOMO kind, but the genuine wish that I want what she has.

I also had thoughts recognizing that this is just the beginning of the efforts, as some significant percentage of the 10 million people in Israel, 350 million people in America, and 7.5 billion around the world will need to be immunized in order to conquer this pandemic.  Israel is likely to impose new restrictions or even a full lockdown, and hospitals around the world remain full of Covid-19 patients.

But more than anything else, in that short moment, was a feeling of deep gratitude.  Over the past ten months, the suffering felt by individuals, families, and communities has been immeasurable. Mass condolence notices, zoom shiva calls, lifecycle events without friends and family, loss of work, family discord, severe anxiety, increased substance abuse–it is hard to find a metric of societal resilience that wasn’t profoundly affected by the seemingly endless challenges brought about by this pandemic and the response to it.  Acute crises that last so many months test anyone’s ability to cope.

And yet, behind all of that, there were people whose dedication allowed us to get to this point of seeing the possibility of an end. I felt gratitude for the nameless infection disease researchers who have been preparing for this type of event for decades.  I sometimes imagine them at dinner parties over the years answering questions about what they do for work, only to have to see people’s eyes glaze over–“hmm, llama antibodies, cool stuff–where’s the dip?”

I felt gratitude to the medical professionals who suited up each day knowing that a constant stream of sick and contagious patients would be waiting for them at their workplace.  Even after the fanfare of the early pandemic waned–no more clapping from the rooftops, a drop in media coverage, and a public that quickly grew weary of strict social distancing and mask wearing–they braved on to keep society afloat.

I felt gratitude to my neighbors and community who have been doing their best to maintain some sense of normalcy over the long months.  The school systems which balanced all the complications of providing education as best they could, local entrepreneurs who adjusted their businesses to accommodate the necessary guidelines and restrictions, committed community members who ensured that religious services and other communal activities could continue in a safe way, countless neighbors who helped each other get through daily life—all of these people enriched my life, and contributed in invaluable ways to support each other through these challenging times.

As I await getting the vaccine, I also feel grateful to the political and public health officials who have developed guidelines for delivering the vaccine in an orderly and efficient way.  These are difficult decisions that are even more difficult to implement, and if we learned anything from the rush on toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic, it is that in times of crisis the public has trouble regulating itself. Despite this, by and large, their efforts have ensured that the process seems fair and will first protect those who need it most.

As I considered the gratitude for all of these groups, the paragraph recited each Shabbat in traditional Jewish liturgy came to mind:  “And for all those who toil faithfully in communal matters, may God repay them, remove any illness from them, heal their bodies, forgive their sins, and grant blessing and success through all of their handiwork.”  In times like these, I believe we are all included in this blessing—even carrying on responsibly in our daily lives is an act of toiling faithfully in support of the greater community.

Extreme suffering remains, and we must continue to feel and show compassion in whatever ways that we can to the many people who are struggling.  The pandemic is far from over, with many still becoming ill, too many continuing to lose loved ones, economic uncertainty, and threats of mutating viruses.  Nevertheless, the coming vaccine can be a catalyst to reflect on sources of gratitude in these dark times that can give us hope and strength to carry on.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. He writes and lectures on topics of psychology, mental health, and halacha, and is the author of the upcoming book "Talmud on the Mind: Exploring Chazal and Practical Psychology to Lead a Better Life." He also co-hosts the Mental Health News Roundup, a weekly online program focusing on contemporary news related to mental health issues.
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