The doctor on the screen seemed to proclaim pandemic freedom
In the Pax Coronavax Mask De-Mandate of 2021.
Vaccination gives you wings
To soar beyond covidian quaran-time.
The jubilation among immune-normal folk coursed palpably,
With electric enthusiasm across airwaves and social media.
Smiles are back,
And those unsightly mask indentations?
Archived with the memes on toilet paper shortages
And recipes for homemade hand sanitizer.
The joy was not unmixed, however.
Some of us found ourselves as deflated as elated.
Ten million Americans fell through the loophole
Referring the immunocompromised to their physicians.
Without normal (or any) immune response to vaccination,
Our wings are still waiting to emerge.
We abide in the cocoons of our homes
And the small community of healthy family and friends
Enfolding us in the wings of their immune response.
Without innate protection
Or shielding by the wider community,
The glimmer of hope of attending church in person,
Or congregational singing,
Or seeing a movie in a theater,
Or date-night dining (even on a restaurant patio)
Receded again over the horizon
Into the unknown future.
The peculiar truth that most everyone
With chronic illness, disability, or cancer will understand,
And healthy people may doubt,
Is that for millions of us
The world opened up
When it closed down.
For the first time, all worship
And we were truly worshiping with our church
And family, united in our mutual geographic separation.
Bible studies and conferences, too,
Education from kindergarten to doctoral seminars,
Book launch events, writing conferences, movie premieres--
All those elusive, inaccessible commonplaces from the healthy world
Opened accessible doors (rather, windows) to us
Whose geography is boundaried less by lines on a map
Than by our diagnoses and disability.
The able and disabled worlds commingled,
A flash of silver lining in the terrible storm thundering around us all.
Now healthy people are celebrating the termination of worship live streams,
Kicking video conferences and virtual Bible studies to the curb,
Rejoicing at returning to travel and festive celebrations:
Baptisms, graduations, ordinations,
Marriages and memorials,
I celebrate your celebrations,
Rejoice with your rejoicing.
Yet I also grieve.
I grieve the loss of solidarity and access
As the able world takes flight and soars away.
As you wing your way back to normal,
Remember us who lament our necessary absence
From the camera rolls and photo albums
Of even those very dear to us?
As you leave your quarantine chrysalides behind,
Remember how confinement felt,
And let that remembrance beget compassion
For those for whom it persists?
Consider leaving the window of remote access cracked open
For our disabled, homebound world
To connect with your wingèd wanderings, your worship,
Your wonder at a world made novel by long confinement?
Remember how your isolation felt for 12, 15, 18 months,
And how worship live stream,
Zoom birthday parties,
Skype Bible studies were manna to you
In the wilderness of quaran-time?
No one craves manna meals forever,
But they are waybread and sustenance
Through the barren places
On the way to the land of promises fulfilled.
Until the pandemic is over
Or herd immunity achieved,
Or some immune booster devised to bolster
The trigger-happy immune systems with terrible aim
For which the least bad treatments remove bullets from the chamber of my defenses--
Until then, millions of us high-risk, immunocompromised patients
Are still questing for contentment,
Within our four walls
And well-scrubbed, alcohol-parched hands,
Grateful for virtual opportunities for community,
Worshipping from home in the chair or bed we can tolerate,
Taking comfort in some vaccine protection
When we leave our sheltering cocoons
For frequent medical appointments, but
Loving most of our people from afar;
Missing marriages and memorials,
Baptisms, graduations, ordinations,
Cherishing the hugs of the few who crawl under our burdens
By reinforcing the walls of our cocoons
With their own vaccinations, masks, clean hands,
And sacrificial steadfastness in covidian quarantine,
Though for their own sake they could spread their wings and soar again.
But, truly, as the healthy and able emerge from their cocoons
And launch themselves back into pre-pandemic life,
The fellowship of the suffering
Find ourselves struggling with some FoNo:
Not fear of missing out (yet some of that too),
But Fear of Normal.
Fear of being left behind by Normal.
I’m asking for a friend,
And a few more beyond that,
But also for myself.
As your world reopens,
As your protection bursts your cocoon and gives you wings,
Please don’t forget to remember us
You’ve left behind.
*Private patient portal conversation with my rheumatologist
 for some churches