We Need to Reframe Freedom Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
I didn’t want to write about this yet. Of course, I also thought COVID-19 would be over by now. From the very beginning of the pandemic, I had hoped, like so many others in the chronic illness community, that things would go differently. I always knew the pandemic wouldn’t end in just two weeks, but I also didn’t want to believe it would still be going on as I prepare for another uncertain semester.
I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom. As someone who was raised and currently lives in the U.S., the concept of freedom is deeply rooted in the rhetoric of my heartland. From the ship I’m in, freedom feels like it’s in dangerous waters.
It is, of course, not solely an American ideal. Recently, England made headlines for what it called “Freedom Day,” when officials declared the country free of many of the mandates imposed to stall the spread of COVID-19. It feels important to note that Freedom Day occurred alongside rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country.
As someone who is no stranger to lung infection, I am privileged to understand virology as a process of my survival. When I was in kindergarten, I scolded other kids for not covering their mouths when they coughed or sneezed. My disease has already made me hyperaware of any sounds of illness near me. Otherwise, I risked catching crippling colds that’d have me away from school for up to two weeks. And that was a best-case scenario.
As I write this on the American side of the pond, I have been stressing over syllabus readings for the upcoming English classes I’m teaching. I worry every day about how many of my students will be vaccinated.
I bounce between my calendar and Twitter, where U.S. President Joe Biden has just tweeted about the responsibility of having freedom. In a country founded on the idea that we are all equal and free, it is important to recognize that it is a privilege to have the freedom to make choices.
What Biden’s tweet did not make clear is that until the pandemic is over for everyone, the most vulnerable members of our population are not free.
Since February 2020, I have heard people tout that measures to protect my life infringe on their freedom. Some of these arguments stretch so far that some states, including my own, have banned mask mandates. But if one person’s freedom puts another’s life and ability to thrive at risk, maybe it’s time to reevaluate our definition of freedom.
Of course, I cannot force anyone I know to wear a mask. Or to get vaccinated. I’ve posted stories on Instagram and infographics on Facebook practically begging my friends and family to do their part. To follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. To care about each other and their own health. To realize that vaccines are safe.
I have cited that I know how it feels for breath to be outside of my reach, to feel like my head is being held underwater by forces beyond my control. I do not want anyone I love to ever endure a heart-shaking search for air.
After so much of this, I still don’t know what’s worse — seeing friends engage in activities that perpetuate my seemingly endless lockdown, or knowing they have heard and recognized the siren’s song and watching them jump into the water. I am left feeling alone on a sinking ship.
I have engaged in a few meaningful conversations online that have gone well. I have also lost handfuls of people I used to consider close.
Thanks to the vaccine, I am finally free to get groceries without wiping down each item with a Clorox wipe before putting it away. With the delta variant rapidly spreading, I’m not entirely sure how much longer this freedom will hold.
I’m counting down the four weeks until I enter a classroom to teach for the first time since early March of last year. I hope I can find freedom to feel safe someday soon.
Like others in this boat with me, I am enjoying the bits of freedom as I have access to them. I am angry at the people around me who continue to tout their freedom as a reason to engage in actions that keep me from accessing the same privileged spaces in my community.
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