Editorial Page, September 2023

Now and Then

By Jane Valencia

Autumn is in the air, apples are ripening. Kids are back in school, and we resume activity with renewed focus and will. As we anticipate the approach of cold and flu season, nurturing one’s immune health is, as always, a practical path.

As one may expect, talk has resurged about COVID. Is this variant of concern? At the time of this writing, COVID, while on the uptick in some communities, remains mild overall, including here on Vashon. Even so, President Biden seeks funding for a new COVID vaccine, and mask mandates have reappeared in some places in the country. Some of us wonder if decision-makers are gearing up to have us do it again: masks, vaccines, mandates, distancing, contact tracing, lockdowns.

And should we? Some of it? None of it? Do our times and situation warrant a global response? And what about personal choice in the matter?

None of us are in the same place we were three+ years ago. We all have navigated this phenomena called COVID that is not just a virus, but a sweep of social, political, economic, and corporate action and reaction on every possible scale.

Many of us are no longer afraid of COVID, or at least not so much. Indeed, with the return of hugs, hand shaking, gatherings, collaborations, smiles, laughter, and face-to-face sharing of our hopes, sorrows, and happiness, the orchestrated caution we practiced during the pandemic may feel anachronistic. While I, like most of us Islanders in the early pandemic, engaged in “six-feet apart,” masking indoors and sometimes even outdoors, and refrained from sitting near or hugging friends, or attending gatherings, I have come to understand how debilitating it is to not engage in the simple acts and daily intimate connection that are part and parcel of our humanity. Perhaps you, like me, ponder where more harm than good resulted, and how extensive the fields of impact and consequences were and are.

Autumn is a time for harvest, and now perhaps we may gather fruit from our pandemic experience. In 2020, a time of bewildering unknown, we turned to or allowed government and medical authorities to take charge. Before we follow in our own footsteps, let’s pause and consider. We have grown and changed in our experience and understanding. The COVID virus has changed, too. As immunologists early in the pandemic predicted, it has become more transmissible, yet milder overall in impact. Individually some of us may remain at enhanced risk. Where this is so, we as a community can strategize and help out. This is something the Island does well.

Beyond the virus, we have much to sift through regarding the mechanisms of our global and local responses, and their consequences – unintended and otherwise. This is the time to harvest from our stories, and glean lessons learned.

We can ask ourselves and begin to share with one another: “What worked or didn’t work for me and my loved ones? What was outright harmful? What do I plan to do differently or better? What would I do again and why?” This is the time to discard labels, judgments, and assumptions, and challenge ourselves to see from one other’s eyes, walk in each other’s shoes. I will listen carefully to what you have to say. Will you do the same?

You and I are not “either-ors,” “cases,” or statistics. We are many-layered, complex beings, each unique. And we are meant to share life in meaningful, close-knit ways, and to engage freely with the gifts of healthy community. Helping each other to weather hardships and tend all manner of health, grow strength of spirit in adversity, cultivate peace within families, find and exchange quality information and resources, discern blind spots and face the elephants in the room, celebrate God and ritual, mark special occasions and new life stages, relax with our homebound elders and enjoy the full range of our connection from smiles to tears, watch children play and play with them, grieve and laugh together. These are gifts that nourish, ground, and powerfully anchor our wellbeing — including our physical health and immune response.

Recognizing this, let’s look again at the challenge we call COVID, and expand the scope of the conversation. Perhaps now is the time to turn from intense focus on the virus, and step into a larger landscape, one in which we both recognize that the COVID virus remains a struggle for some, but is no longer our collective defining challenge.

In any event, it’s a good time to catch up with friends and neighbors we haven’t seen in awhile. Whether in the grocery store or on the street, when we ask and respond to, “How are you?” let’s dig a little deeper to more frankly express what is on our minds and hearts. Just as when we stand at KVI beach attempting to discern what’s out in the far waters, we might find ways to look together, and ask a question, seek an answer. Wisdom arises from such encounters. When held with respect and regard, our differing perspectives are our wealth.

As we move into Autumn, let us bring our savvy to bear in assessing Now and Then. With a mind to the winds pushing or pulling us into the future, let us lean into an open curiosity that can bridge differences and remind us that we share not only the same shore, but — somewhere upon it — love the same view or patch of sand. May we heed a call to practice community in its healthiest forms, deeply and well. When trouble again comes our way, let ours be a truly local and diverse response. Watch creativity arise, and a new trail emerge, guiding us into the heart of our Island.

September 7, 2023

About Author

jane Jane writes about what it means to be an Islander, and how we can nourish healthy community. A harper, storyteller, and herbalist, she also shares tales and art that she is sure the Island told her. Having lived with her family on Vashon for 20+ years, she is convinced of the Island's magic.