Like most everyone I know, it wasn't long into the pandemic that I felt a keen sense of loss, isolation, and even depression. I missed our friends, our family, and the shoulder-to-shoulder happy hours at Aqua.
I'm not one to wallow. Instead, I analyze whatever's going on my life, and seek ways to make it better. But with COVID-19 I couldn't seem to rise above my sadness.
My husband and I had every reason to be happy. We were safe. We were employed. We never went hungry. Meanwhile, in the world around us, many suffered or worse.
I realized much of my sadness was rooted in a frustrating cycle of feeling helpless. Other than following guidelines like masking and distancing, it felt like all we could do was wait out this pandemic. And wow, it was going to be a long wait. Every news story slowly chipped away a piece of our lives.
So we increased our charitable giving severalfold. We gave to organizations that would help those less fortunate, especially those involved with buying or getting food. And our tipping became almost comical. If a server did nothing more than pull our order from the takeout counter to the cash register, we tipped 30 percent. It helped, but we still didn't feel we were doing enough.
When my husband started working crazy-long hours and weekends, I decided to take one "risk" per week and started volunteering for a local food bank. I did everything from filling boxes to heavy lifting. I wore flannel. I learned the jargon—words like palletize, floater, and box-taper-upper. I even learned how to use an electric jack, the closest I'll ever get to operating a manly power tool.
The experience was amazing and uplifting. My mental health improved immediately. So much, in fact, it made me want to volunteer more.
I'm very passionate about COVID-19 vaccines. I feel they are our strongest hope to save lives and eradicate this once and for all. Local clinics were starting to form and I wondered if they needed help.
Memories of my grade school days as a crossing guard took over. And my time performing in various color guards conjured visions of me directing traffic with a neon orange swing flag. I would wrangle a crowd like no other. No one would get in the wrong line on my watch. I would spin, twirl, and toss that flag if it ensured more shots got delivered with my help!
Back to reality. A simple internet search and some networking revealed many opportunities to help as a non-medical volunteer. Some close friends joined me, and we were soon "hired" at UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their staff has some of the best people I'll ever work with in my life. Dedicated, caring folks pulling together from all over the organization to work these clinics. I am continuously in awe of them.
On my first day I was posted with my dear friend Ray at the after-shot station. We assigned people to various waiting rooms to get their next appointments. But now, all us volunteers are willing to do whatever pops up. We became jacks of all trades to meet the goal of "more shots in more arms".
The work was fun. So much better than my sedentary, lonely day job. Around 500 people got vaccinated that first day. It was emotional. The relief, the appreciation. A few cried. Congratulations were shared. The eyes above the masks were smiling. There was a lightness in the air I haven't felt in a very long time.
Of course, every clinic comes with hiccups. A leaky pipe that closes a bathroom. A computer glitch that results in longer lines. Recipients with creative questions.
But I'm learning hurdles are surmountable with compassion and understanding. In the process of helping others, I'm healing myself. And if all else fails, there's humor. Lots of it. Meanwhile I was handing folks bottled water. People laughed. They were more at ease. So was I.
One of my favorite moments involves a gentleman firefighter. The burly type. Covered in tattoos but scared to death of needles. Folks in line bonded with him and quietly cheered when he got vaccinated without fainting (they really are small needles). I asked him about the tattoos and he said those needles involved bravery of the alcohol kind. You have to love our first responders.
Our health and wellness is everything in this life. When it's your turn, do get vaccinated if you're able. And consider volunteering. Better yet bring a friend. It pays dividends. It does for me.
Ed and his husband, Jerry, split their time between homes near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Bethany Beach. Ed builds websites to pay the bills but loves to cook, garden, hike, and dote on their dog Atticus.