THE POISON PEN and MY HOPEFUL BRAIN

Why I’ll never forget the day I got vaccinated

I remember the 45 minutes around my vaccination like it was yesterday. Strange considering I’m someone who doesn’t usually remember yesterday that well.

Our brains all have in them a strange and volatile memory-secretary. Mine, especially so. Everyone’s brain slows down during new or novel or adrenaline-fueled events. It’s our way of capturing as much important data as possible for our memory-secretary to obsess over afterward in order to glean any vital information we may have missed. If we just narrowly escaped getting eaten by a tiger, probably a good thing that our brain remembers everything from the event so we don’t end up in a similar spot again. The same too goes for our first kiss. If you are lucky enough for it to have gone well for you, your brain most likely made sure to remember as many of the details of the experience so as to make you repeat that process as many times as possible :)

And yet during the ordinary day-to-day, our brains do the opposite. They tend to go on autopilot. It wants to conserve energy and storage space by sort of glossing over the small print. And for me personally, I’ve always had the sense my memory-secretary is shrewd and ruthless in this regard. Most days she throws the memories straight in the trash. “Seen this all before. No need to keep this. Toss that. Etc.” The opposite of a packrat. But for those rare and new and novel events, she remembers every painstakingly minor and discreet detail.

Most of the time this is a curse (see: car accidents, family member deaths, break-ups, etc). But every now and again, it can be a deep blessing. And that was exactly the case for the 45 minutes before and after 2:15PM at the CVS on 147 Main Street this past Palm Sunday. The time and place I got my first round of the COVID Vaccine.

I remember all of it. I remember Daryl getting down on one knee to vaccinate me at the right angle and me making a funny joke about this being an odd time and place for Daryl to be proposing to me (probably just to hide my nervousness).

I remember the giant beverage sign looming above our heads in the magazine aisle turned makeshift waiting room. I remember wondering to myself if I needed to pick any cosmetics up while I was there. I remember my brain feeling thrown off by all the previous mnemonic devices it had built out for what a CVS was for juxtaposed against what it was being used for now. It felt both out of place and exactly right. Considering the tumult and emotional see-sawing of 2020, this moment of pandemic-page-turning felt more sacrosanct than your typical CVS could usually provide for. But there was a certain kind of poetry to it in a way. It was local. It was easy. It was kitsch. A sense of how amazing and accessible cutting-edge medicine can be; “Get a novel state-of-the-art vaccine to protect yourself against a deadly pandemic and then grab some coconut water and a stick of Old Spice on your way out.”

But the one thing I will remember most are the people we waited in line with and the conversations we had.

There was my new fiance Daryl with the poison pen of course. And then there was “Faith” and “Witness” and my husband David. And as we all waited our turn, the moment felt far too pregnant, far too hopeful for us to stand next to each other in silence. And so we did what all humans have done since before the invention of language. We communicated with each other. We talked about our experience and what we were going through together and the decisions that brought us to this point. To decide to get a vaccine. Simply put, we made conversation.

My husband stood there, calm but determined, assuring me (see also: dragging me along). “Faith” for her part, overcame intense family opposition and disagreements about her decision to vaccinate. And “Witness” put it best when asked about his decision he simply replied, “Come on man, there’s no choice — it’s gotta happen.”

And although we bullshitted and made jokes and exchanged sincere and heartfelt wishes as we left, it wasn’t what was said per se that my memory secretary has since so fervently held on to, but rather the sense of genuine bonding with the four of them. It was the feeling of being hopeful and joyful while in the presence of others once again. Hope that I, like so many others, sorely missed the past year. Making memories around hope and communion instead of fear and uncertainty felt new to my memory-secretary and so she marked the occasion accordingly. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a CVS the same.

Founder of Making Conversation, senior design advisor for Rockefeller Foundation & former global managing partner of IDEO — fan of words and good conversation.

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