How to explain…

When I type the above into Google, the drop-down list shows that not everyone knows how to explain tough topics (like autism or death) to a child. Explain… The word implies reassurance. Frankness. Facts. It sounds innocuous. Whoops! Already I’ve used a word sometimes confused with inoculation (but which comes from a different Latin root, as in primum non nocere: ‘First, do no harm’). Lately, language is loaded like never before, as we scramble to incorporate – oops, a word that shares its root with… No wonder we don’t notice that corporate interests come before our own. Language adapts faster to the shock of the new than our bodies do. Remember that Laurie Anderson song, ‘Language is a Virus’? Some viruses, too, can endure for centuries, if not millennia. Yet the relative transience of our flesh hasn’t stopped us developing fierce defences, e.g., identities – typically armed with scripts like ‘The customer is always right’, or just scripts for SSRIs.

Which reminds me of a recent phone consult with my GP, who – after we’d reviewed the results of my routine blood test – raised the vexed vax question. Treating it as a matter of when, not whether, they heard my ‘hesitancy’ (a word often misused these days to refer to a widespread phenomenon sometimes more precisely defined as distrust of political opportunism and/or immunity to disinfomercial blitzes). So my GP discussed the relative merits of AZ and Pfizer and, while they could tell me nothing about my personal vulnerability to a fast-mutating virus or a fast-tracked vax, they could, having jabbed stacks of patients, report firsthand on the pros and cons of both brands – as if the difference between them were the issue and not my position that I’m neither old nor aware of underlying conditions that might compromise an immune system sound enough that I suffered flu just once in several years despite averaging 4–5 hours’ broken sleep per night due to an abusive environment.

Doctors can get it wrong. At 17 I underwent a major surgical intervention at the hands of a top orthopaedic man. How’d that work out for me? Decades of pain and restriction I’ve since learned weren’t necessary; even at the time there were effective alternatives. Medical experts, like anyone society rewards, can’t afford to keep an open mind. Which doesn’t impress me. How could it? At 23 I opened my mind too fast and far without preparation and spent the next few years navigating what, in our schizoid society, gets reduced to a ‘mental health’ crisis, as if the state of our minds is unrelated to our bodies, emotions, toxic social context and the climate.

The thing is, I learned as a child that I didn’t need to fit in to survive; ostracised when my mother feared and interfered with my making friends, I was left alone with no choice but to think for myself. So I don’t fear exclusion when some tool I didn’t vote for resorts to bribes and threats (or Dan Andrews says, ‘to protect the health system, we’re going to lock out people who are not vaccinated and can be’ and, parroting Biden, ‘This becomes absolutely a pandemic of the unvaccinated’).

If people happen to opt for the jab because they want to travel or identify as vulnerable or, despite informed reluctance, need to keep their job if they’ve still got one (a range of reasons that accounts for some of my favourite people), I fully respect their decision. And if, having reviewed a vast cross-section of the available data, some of it puzzlingly sidelined if not actively suppressed, I choose to take sensible precautions, including not assuming that this government knows what’s best for all of us, then I’d like to think that choice deserves respect too – which is different to thinking I’ll get it. Speaking of which…

The other day I heard from someone I used to see at a reading group. Due to Covid restrictions we haven’t caught up in person for months. Since 2013, I haven’t missed a monthly meeting. Despite (and maybe due to) lacking common ground with the group, a core cohort of seven that at times expands to eight, I’ve valued the challenge and intellectual discipline of studying the life work of one thinker, a radical post-Jungian psychologist whose writings encompass philosophy, history, science, religion, culture and so on. The dense readings demand intense focus. Group members read a section of text between meetings where we take turns to reread aloud, pausing as needed to wrestle with concepts or clarify meanings.

In the absence of these meetings I’ve continued with the readings, and, according to my caller, who’s been keeping in touch (due to lockdown blues?), some weeks back the convenor floated the idea of Zoom. But despite my openness to it (vs. no group), my caller told the convenor they weren’t keen. So what prompted this latest contact?

They soon came to the point, so to speak. Had I had second thoughts about the jab? LOL, no. So then they explained that when lockdown ends and our meetings resume, they’d feel nervous if there were any, ahem, unvaxxed in the room. I sympathised and assured them I’d be happy not to attend if my presence might discomfit anyone. You can’t argue with irrational fear. Though I may have dissed our state and federal governments, for which (it struck me later) my caller may have voted. Did I not think, they cut in, that with the world population increasing, greater control would be needed (as if ‘control’ were neutral)? I said I thought the runaway global warming that corrupt governments like ours ignore would exert control through extreme weather etc. Which somehow led to why viruses mutate (they concur with their contemporary Biden, whose rhetoric suggests that the unvaxxed are the problem, not the virus), and there’s little to be gained from a debate with someone who quotes their partner (not a virologist) as a reliable knowledge source. Which brings me back to how to explain…

I asked my GP how well they thought the current vaccines would work when new Covid variants emerge. ‘That’s crystal ball gazing,’ they said. I replied that so were their worst-case scenario predictions. ‘No,’ they retorted, ‘they’re statistics.’ (So then why should a fit and active individual free of substance addictions with a healthy diet and a low-stress lifestyle be forced to receive the same treatment as, say, an inactive, obese smoker and drinker with a high-fat, high-carb diet and a high-stress lifestyle?) Trained in both Chinese and Western medicine, my GP knows more than most in their profession: Don’t stop taking the zinc, they said when stats failed to convince me.

Of course I’ll miss the reading group, I already do! But the life of the mind – including a grasp of something as abstract as psychology as the discipline of interiority – can’t be wholly divorced from the body. Statistics tell us, if common sense doesn’t, that unhealthy habits greatly increase the risk of dementia. And cognitive decline is distracting.

In the words of Laurie Anderson: ‘And there was a beautiful view / But nobody could see / ’Cause everybody on the island was screaming: / Look at me! / Look at me! / Look at me! / Look at me! / Look at me!’

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