For the Holidays, Give the Gift of Grace

Supply chain problems aren’t limited to products languishing in shipping containers off the West Coast of the United States. This country, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, also is running short on grace.

America, the land of second chances, is being led by her president to accept excluding, blaming, and shunning friends, family, and coworkers who choose to make their own medical decisions about the various (and waning in efficacy) COVID vaccinations. 

Celebrities like Gayle King and Jennifer Aniston started the drumbeat earlier this year, and now publications both highbrow (like Katherine Wu writing in The Atlantic) and mass market (like the Daily Mail) are reporting with increased urgency about the dangers of actually connecting with one’s own family for the holidays.

This is problematic for many reasons, including The Science™, but mostly because it’s plain old mean

For those not up on the most recent news, not only does the CDC finally admit that the vaccines don’t prevent illness or transmission, but there is no evidence—as in zero—that the naturally immune spread COVID. This means that banning COVID-recovered friends and family from gatherings and events was always medically ridiculous. Moreover, their own data about children being in danger or a danger to others is tenuous at best.

But the main reason all of this is harmful nonsense is because it lacks grace

After all, grace is what Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Hanukkah holidays are actually for and about. Recently, when I read this essay about the concept of grace in the context of legal mediation, I was struck by the author’s view of the most important question so many people seem to have forgotten lately. To wit, “Do you want to become whole again?”

Grace involves unearned, unmerited favor. Grace flows independent of and without regard for satisfying any emotional or intellectual need that exists within the mind of the benefactor. In short, the recipient of grace is one who has been redeemed.

We Learned Nothing From AIDS

I understand how scared people were, and still are, of COVID. In the beginning, it certainly seemed that the disease could strike without impunity, killing like a respiratory version of Ebola. (We have since learned, to the relief of most, that COVID is much, much less lethal than we originally believed.) People felt similarly frightened in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Patients were treated like lepers, with family and friends scared to touch or hug them. As a new generation learns about Princess Diana from Netflix’s “The Crown,” her real-life efforts to connect with AIDS patients in Britain and on a visit to the United States moved the public in a way that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s pronouncements could not (yes, he was the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases all those years ago.)  

I remember a friend of mine in South Florida who had small children at home even as she loved and hugged and cared for our friends who ultimately died with AIDS. She never shunned our friends, never suggested anyone not invite them to Thanksgiving, never acted as anything other than a fellow human being at a time when they were alone and vulnerable. It seems that we learned from the example of people like her too late in the 1980s and retain nothing of that lesson today.

The incredible perniciousness of the worldwide effort to reject unvaccinated people is that in many cases (if not most), we are shunning people who are not, in fact, sick. They are just people who have the temerity to have judged their personal situations and chosen differently. That does not make them lepers, does it, Gayle? Is Jennifer doling out mea culpas to the friends she ditched now that it’s clear vaccines aren’t the Holy Grail? No. But they and others like them can be forgiven their hysterics, when Joe Biden and public health experts daily conflate vaccination status with active infection.

Mentally competent adults in the United States are able to make their own decisions about their health, and also to make decisions for their own minor children, based on their personal medical situations. How dare we presume to determine the answers to these questions for them?

An Overinflated Sense of Personal Danger

Cautious people who got vaccinated right away (some cutting the line back when only the elderly and frontline workers were eligible) are also assessing risks of seeing family members who have chosen differently than they have, but often with an overinflated sense of personal danger. Many seem not to know that COVID progresses in a different way than a regular cold, which is why denying early treatment is practically an unforgivable sin—so they imagine that their usual difficulties with respiratory ailments equal sure death from COVID. 

As the Atlantic article puts it, “Alain, who has asthma, which can make COVID-19 worse, knows that his own injections won’t wipe the slate clean for him, or those around him.” They’ve missed the news (because our public health gurus neglected to mention it) that there are some clear comorbidities for COVID, and being prone to sinus infections and having asthma aren’t top of the list. 

This essay, however, isn’t about The Science™, as interesting as it may be. It’s about all the loss we’ve experienced over the past 20 months. Loss of livelihoods, of education, and of those who, sadly, passed away from the virus whose origins should give us all pause when we realize that many of the recommended treatments come from beneficiaries of the lockdowns and the vaccines. It’s also about the loss of friends who died from despair, from loneliness, from the effects of cutting them out of the web of human interactions that keep us afloat.

As a child, Dr. Seuss’ story The Sneetches was my very favorite of his creations. If you haven’t read it in a while, or don’t remember it, it’s the story of the Sneetches who are put through a literal wringer that, for a charge, stamps a star on one’s belly and also, for a higher fee, can remove it. One could even say that it can boost the original “stars upon thars.” As I reflected on the madness of being shunned by fellow Americans earlier this summer, I tweeted that I was looking forward to getting back to loving each other again. https://twitter.com/RoxanneForAD46/status/1418362942173552645?s=20

As NBA player Jonathan Isaacs, who is opposed to mandates, says, “I don’t feel that it is anyone’s reason to come out and say well this is why or this is not why, it should just be their decision. Loving your neighbor is not just loving those who agree with you or look like you or move in the same way that you do. It’s, you know, loving those who don’t.” 

Lack of Grace and Public Policy

I wish I were only discussing family dinners and outings, but this growing problem of lack of grace extends to those in the medical field who believe it is appropriate to announce their plans to deny treatment to sick but unvaccinated patients. One can hardly blame Gayle King, Jennifer Aniston, and people in our own lives for rejecting us if doctors are announcing their desire to throw the unvaccinated under a bus. 

Those putative leaders are the ones who made it OK for a neighbor to accost and then loudly berate a septuagenarian female friend of mine in Fryman Canyon, a public hiking trail in Los Angeles, knowing that she’d had and recovered from COVID, for not getting the vaccine. Were they mad at her for not going back in time to have gotten the jab before getting sick? Or were they angry that she’d dared to survive and wanted to proceed with her life, natural immunity intact? Did they not know, like the people who yelled at me to get vaccinated the day I emerged from my own bout with COVID and subsequent quarantine, that the chance of adverse reactions to the vaccine rises for those with prior infection?

I may never learn, because some of those people no longer speak to us.

While I identify as a conservative, this isn’t—or shouldn’t be—partisan. A Twitter mutual is a Democrat and expressed her dismay at realizing that her children’s grandparents are perfectly fine with never seeing the kids again. It’s hardly beyond the pale to point out to them that, for all of us, life ends at some point, and most of my friends who are in their 80s would never trade an extra week or month of life if they had to give up the hugs and faces of their sweet grandkids in exchange. 

That kind of selfishness may have worked in the days of human sacrifice, but I thought we had become a more advanced civilization. Again, children pose almost no risk to vaccinated adults, but somehow, they’re the new bogeyman, according to The Atlantic’s Wu.

When the Pendulum Swings Back, Cling to Grace

Like all stories, however, this one has another side (my stepfather used to say to me when fighting a sibling, “there are three sides to every story—yours, hers, and the truth!”). If you’ve been the recipient of vitriol or shunning or pressure, it can be very hard to suppress the urge to say “I told you so!” or to exact revenge for your punishment and lost time with loved ones. I will have to make peace with the missed events and family time we will never get back and learn not to hold a grudge when the pendulum swings back.

I miss my family (yes, the ones who dismissed my concerns about myocarditis for the young men in my charge). I miss my friends (yes, the ones who claimed I was “stubborn” for not wanting a medically contraindicated medical treatment). I miss my work, playing dress-up, and pretending to be someone else on camera (yes—bad sitcoms and one-line parts in movies are fun—even though our unions failed to defend us). I miss my kids’ school community (yes, the people who cut our kids off from each other first with Zoom school, which wasn’t school at all, and then with masks). 

We all need to dig deep into our strategic reserves of grace and forgiveness to build a future that doesn’t punish those in our lives who personally punished us. (What we do with the public experts who brought this lack of grace upon us is another story.) 

There is hope, of course. At the end of Dr. Seuss’ allegory, the Sneetches, starred and unstarred, are back together and loving each other once again.

Every morning, I repeat the Episcopal prayer which includes the words: 

Help us to do the things we should,

To be to others kind and good,

In all we do, in all we say,

To grow more loving every day.

That is the challenge—to retain your humanity while living in this insane world. If your family is still torn asunder, consider Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches and Other Stories as a Christmas or Hanukkah gift. Happy Thanksgiving and may God bless you and open your heart and the hearts of those you love. 

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About Roxanne Beckford Hoge

Roxanne Beckford was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She was graduated from Davidson College with a degree in psychology in 1986, then arrived in Southern California in the late 1980s to become a working actor. She starting out playing Whitley's cousin on "A Different World" and continued to appear in television and movie roles even while marrying her husband and having and raising four children. Roxanne is the co-owner of an online retailer, and ran for State Assembly, in 2018, which was quite the civics lesson for a mom with a minivan.

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