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First Shall Be Last, and the Last Shall be First

There are millions of us boomers. Unlike newborns who are mostly sleeping, smooth, healthy, and nary a care in the world, we suffer from insomnia, various infirmities, wrinkles, and worry- and for reason. A lifetime of experiences has taught us that there are consequences to everything. That what we had and took for granted can suddenly be lost and become of great value. We’ve all had good deeds go punished and have learned that the world is full of good intentions while not always competently accomplished.

This pandemic has caused us all to fret a bit and that was before the promise of the vaccine. We were told that this life-saving vaccine was to be administered first to the most vulnerable — nursing home residents, seniors living various accommodations, and then those 65 years young or older. That made perfect sense. The virus appeared to be targeting this group with a vengeance. Unlike the floating hospital ships and civic centers turned emergency centers at the beginning of the pandemic, most of which went unused, we were left to our imagination as to how we all would get poked.

So imagine we did. Nearly all of us. I know because I’ve talked to a few of you. Coming from a generation of problem-solvers, some foresaw problems with bureaucracies competently inoculating an entire population- and that was before plugging in all the algorithms for equity and fairness. One individual cynically predicted, “You watch, young, healthy school teachers will demand the vaccinations before the vulnerable.” Another countered, “Naw… educators are the most likely to ‘follow the science.’”

As has been the course of this pandemic, the goalposts continually move. Broad objectives are established, some lip service paid to a strategy, and then the game changes. We’re no longer playing a solitary dart game alone in the basement called ‘Flatten The Curve’ where two balloons are attached to a mannequin. Instead, we’re told to play ‘Pin a Mask on the Flatulent Donkey,’ where not one mask is pinned to the back end of a donkey, but two, three, or more. Then they came up with a game called ‘Play but Not in the Park.’ When you arrived to play pickleball with paddles and balls, a padlock and sign greeted you. “The park is closed. It is not safe to play with the balls touched by others.”

Dejected, you zombie walk back to your home and imagine a short story you title ‘2022.’ It’s a dystopian prediction about a young boy getting sick from playing with grandpa’s old facemask. Fortunately, the boy of six had no symptoms, but the swab stuck far up his nose contained a mutated coronavirus no one had seen before. “Out of an abundance of caution,” said the president before a TV audience, “the world must be shut down again.”

The collective moan causes a rattling of windows and a huge surge in the stock price of every pharmaceutical company that manufactures anti-depressants and vaccines. The booze industry goes a bit tipsy as well. With a grandfatherly smile, the president assures the millions of citizens tuned in that the presses will continue to print and another check will soon be in the mail.

The grandson had found the crumpled-up facemask in a garbage can in the garage. It was the facemask grandpa wore while standing in line for his vaccination shot. He had signed up for anything that promised a phone call when the vaccine arrived. He never got a phone call. He had made many visits to the official state website, answered the same pages of questions hundreds of times, and on several occasions, thought he had successfully navigated an appointment to only be told that he was too late. Someone beat him to that appointment time. Last again.

Then, by miracle perhaps, early in the morning, grandpa managed an appointment time the very next day. He never looked so forward to getting a poke in the arm as that morning. He spent much of the day plotting his trip to the high school gymnasium to be certain he would be a bit early. Maybe he would be first.

Armed with a copy of the official email and ID, grandpa joined the line that snaked around the parking lot. He was in a jovial mood joking with the security officers and fellow citizens. Once inside, the public address system asked if any school teachers were waiting in queue. Sure enough, soon, a dozen or so of mostly younger people walked briskly to the front of the line. A few minutes passed when another announcement came. “Would school bus drivers move to the front of the line, please?” Soon, another group with broad smiles passed grandpa, appreciating that they’d be first.

Grandpa happened to be following an elderly couple. The misses was held steady with a walker as he shuffled patiently behind. They watched with some bewilderment the groups hustling to the front. The old man possibly mused to himself what would happen in the event of a fire. Would they be trampled? He might have even muttered to his wife his hope that the vaccine wouldn’t run out by the time their turn came. Glum and dispirited, they worried they would be last.

It turns out that those who make decisions as to who will be first and who will be last find it necessary to change the mind. That nosophobia, the fear of getting sick, knows no age limits, and even when the science suggests the chance of a 40-year-old dying from COVID-19 a fraction of that of an 80-year-old, that powerful forces can change our best instincts. So the teachers union and other powerful political forces bend algorithms to allow the least vulnerable to be first and the vulnerable to be last. Not exactly how the world worked in the age of the Titanic, but in the age of 2+2=5 and babies are born racist, all is possible.

But men love abstract reasoning and neat systematization so much that they think nothing of distorting the truth, closing their eyes and ears to contrary evidence to preserve their logical constructions. -Fyodor Dostoevsky

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