After our daughter graduated from college with a degree in wildlife biology, she landed her first job in a tiny (population 69) not-much- more-than-an-intersection town in rural New Mexico. As she was introduced to her neighbors, she was informed that she would be a member of the local fire department. When she told them she had no training, she was informed that she would receive bunker gear and enough instruction to help out. She was not asked; she was told. In a rural area of ranch land with not a house for miles, she was considered able-bodied and was expected to pitch in. When she told us about it, I was impressed with her new community’s spirit of camaraderie and inclusion. In that dry, vast part of the country, neighbors knew they needed one another and pitched in to help, without a “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

Fast forward almost 20 years to our weary world of COVID. We could use that spirit now. For us to survive and prosper our way out of the pandemic, we need each other. I’ve had my vaccinations, but I still wear a mask in public to protect young children who cannot get the shots. No, they’re not my children, but they are somebody’s children. I don’t want to pass on the virus to my senior citizen friends. I don’t want to put any further burden on our health care workers who have worked night and day to save lives. I want to help local businesses, so I wear my mask and buy locally to help the economy. I’m just as tired of COVID precautions as anyone, but I intend to survive this virus and live a lot more years.

When my dad served in India in WWII, he and my mother were separated for almost three years. I have his letters to her, and he ached to be with her, desperately homesick and lonely. But they did their parts: his as a reconnaissance photographer in a B-25 in India, hers in Toledo working at a munitions factory. They made it through those years without benefit of e-mail, Instagram, Zoom or phone cards. Her life included rationing and travel restrictions; his included risky flights at 29,000 feet and living in a hot, unfamiliar country, thousands of miles from home. And if my parents were still here with us, they’d have no sympathy for anyone who refuses their vaccination or complains because their “freedom” is impacted by safety precautions against a deadly virus. Get over yourself, they would say. Put on your big kid panties and deal with it. We’ve known real hardships, and we got through it.

Folks, we can get through this pandemic, but only if we use the tools we have to fight a virus that is not weary and shows no signs of going away any time soon. We’re not fighting a wildfire in New Mexico, but we’re fighting nonetheless. And we need our neighbors, and they need us.

Julie Rigby