My mother is quirky, a rebel who swears she’s gonna try ‘shrooms before she dies. She hits 94 next August.
She is many things: an avid reader, a horrible cook, a pot-stirrer (in an exhausting and entertaining way), a woman who remarks, when she sees congress in session, “Where are all the women?!?” She is snarky and stubborn and so, so kind, the type of person who lets her grandchildren’s friends stay with her if they have no place to go. She is our mensch, our glue, the standard the entire family holds ourselves to.
She is also an anti-vaxxer.
This makes little sense to me. I consider myself a very liberal and progressive thinker, but next to my mom I look closer to Jim Jordan than Bernie Sanders. She believes, even aggressively, in universal healthcare and student loan forgiveness, and she thinks the government should keep their “damn hands” off women’s uteruses. She is a fervent believer of social equality, supporting BLM, the LGBTQIA+ community, and scads of other causes I probably haven’t even heard of. When Kathy Griffin severed Trump’s head, I heard her mumble, “Well, somebody’s gotta do it.” And, keep in mind, she is 93.
But she is an anti-vaxxer–and I am not.
Pre-vaccine rollout, she listened to me wax poetic when I talked about Fauci, and she agreed that, though too old for me, he was pretty much a “biscuit.” We watched him spar with Rand Paul, and we laughed when he did a facepalm when Trump referred to the “deep state” during his zig-zagging briefing. She even bought me a Fauci tote bag to go along with my window cling.
Once vaccines came into play, however, Fauci became anathema. I always knew she was not exactly pro-vaccine (she says she’s never had one), just like she’s not pro-microwaves or hydrogenated oils or fluoridation. She has always been distrustful of doctors; she doesn’t fully buy that Jefferey Epstein’s death was a suicide; and, she is about an inch away from living off the grid. I guess her opposition to government-sponsored vaccination, in light of her past history, shouldn’t be that surprising.
But how can Clorox and hydroxychloroquine be so ridiculous to her, but Ivermectin our savior? I didn’t realize she felt this way until I visited last weekend and snidely said something along the lines of “How stupid does someone have to be to use a horse de-wormer?” She came back with something like, “How stupid does someone have to be to get a Covid vaccine?” Then she asked me if I had gotten mine. (When I answered honestly and said yes, she directed me to put on a mask–“or you’ll get me sick.”)
And then the emailed videos and articles started. I got as far as the titles and learned that the vaccine makes people magnetic and contains Big-Brother-issued microchips. A Canadian viral immunologist uncovered that these vaccines “produce ‘toxins’ that can travel to the brain.” It is evidently a well-known fact that autism is a side-effect and that anyone who chooses to be vaccinated is also choosing to alter their DNA. I told her I’d take it all—the brain poison, the spectrum disorder, the magnetism—instead of dying a gurgling, gasping Covid death. She said, verbatim, “Well, I guess that’s your choice.”
I showed her the numbers and her response was absolutely unbelievable: “They’re just trying to divide us.” I didn’t even ask who “they” were; I just knew her reaction sounded an awful lot like the “fake news” anthem the two of us had been railing about since 2016.
These days, my mother is reminding me more of Marjorie Taylor Greene than the unapologetic radical thinker she was in the pre-pandemic days. She seems one step away from ranting about lizard people and how the Clintons had JFK, Jr. killed. And this presents a problem for me.
Anti-vaxxers are like the people who, in the face of a natural disaster and evacuation orders, refuse to budge. I am not talking about those who are unable to remove themselves; I am talking about the “I’ve-weathered-worse-than-this-and-nobody’s-gonna-force-me-out” objector. I never think they are brave or stoic; the word that comes to mind is “selfish.” Sometimes their recalcitrance is a non-issue. However, sometimes emergency rescue crews have to risk their lives to save these holdouts—a faction, once obstinately non-compliant, but now standing, haggard and beaten, on a half-collapsed roof and waving their arms. And what about those who tried to follow evacuation mandates, but were unable to? Do they get pushed to the end of the line?
When I read about another regretful anti-vaxxer, I have compassion, yes, but that is not my immediate default. This is: “You are taking someone else’s bed. You are taking someone else’s ventilator. You are killing these doctors and nurses—and you never considered them in the first place, did you? And now you have the audacity to feel regret? Now you think you can take it all back?”
But how do I reconcile these feelings with the fact that I have an unvaccinated mother—a formidable and respected matriarch who is spreading the anti-vax word and has convinced at least 9 other family members to do the same? I am terrified of her getting Covid (afterall, her house is, in her words, a “mask-free” zone), and I can’t 100% allow my uncharitable thoughts to apply to her. I am ashamed of myself for lumping her in. But, still, she is complicit.
I want to parrot her words: “Well, I guess that’s your choice.” But during these times, when this country alone has already lost over 600,000 and is now sacrificing our children, it’s not about us, individually, anymore. It’s about us coming together, unified with the singular goal of halting this pandemic and its ravages.
But, on her part, I don’t think anything’s going to change. I never thought of my mom in these terms before, but now I wish she wouldn’t be so selfish.