For the past few months, I have been working at COVID-19 vaccination sites. My job as a contact tracer took a pivot when cases went down and vaccines came on the scene. Working at the vaccine sites is one of the most joyful, healing, and connecting experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Everyone who comes to the vaccination clinic is so happy. They are nervous with excitement, thrilled in the way Charlie was when he finally opened a Wonka Bar and found a golden ticket. They cannot believe they are finally there getting their shot.
I work with nurses every day. After I check in the people they go to a nurse to get their vaccine. When I screen people, I know that many of them are not being honest about their eligibility. My judgemental nature, the one who says, “this is right, and that is wrong” rears its head and withholds a smile from under my mask for these people. I am judging them. I know they are skipping the line, not waiting their turn like many millions of Americans.
But the nurses never judge. They welcome the people into the folding chair, look into their eyes, tell them it won’t hurt much at all, and listen if they have questions. The nurses, though they have hundreds of shots to do in a day, never rush. And they treat every single person with a gentle, caring attitude.
I have learned a lot from these nurses.
Even though I think I’m right all the time, I don’t actually know everything.
Even if someone is rude or smelly or inappropriate, you can still treat them with kindness and openness.
When you treat someone with kindness and openness, it is contagious.
As I’ve moved through my days at the vaccination clinics, silently stewing in my judgment of people who are not following the state delineated phase guidelines, the nurses have been floating around in an orb of golden light doling out magic pricks of hope and healing. I’ve talked to them about my struggle to not judge and they look at me lovingly and say something like, “everyone needs a vaccine” or “we can never know the whole story.”
Yesterday a thirty-something, drunk, surly man arrived for his vaccine. I checked him in but could barely look him in the eyes. My disdain for him was verging on explosive and it was all I could do to just get him to the nurse. The nurse, a seventy-something white-haired good-witch smiled and said, “Welcome, is this your first shot today?” and when he replied yes, she clapped her hands together and said, “Wuuuuunderful.”
I watched this nurse in awe. Her genuine open heart and generous spirit was captivating. It made me want to be more like her. To watch her made me want to give that energy to the world instead of my “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude.
If all of the people like me were more like that nurse, our world would be so much more loving and kind and happy. When the surly drunk guy got out of the folding chair and walked towards the area where he’d sit and be observed for fifteen minutes, he seemed lighter on his feet. I couldn’t see his mouth, but his eyes were smiling. That nurse had added some golden light to his day and hopefully, he would pay it forward today or sometime in the future.
And every time the nurses had an interaction like that they forged a connection. With each person they pricked with a shot and blessed with a warm pat on the back or a kind word, they created a sense of being in this together. In contrast, with every person I judged for being too young or too healthy or too drunk, I created a breach. In my judgment I made the person feel shame or humiliation, even without saying a word.
It’s easy to sit in judgment of others. It’s safe. It keeps us separate and apart from things we don’t know or want to understand. What’s hard, but ultimately better for the world is to be open and loving, even towards people who don’t fit the mold of what we might think is right and good and honest.
Working with the nurses has taught me that kindness trumps judgment just like love trumps hate. I know I have a lot of work to do to unravel my years of finding safety in the right and wrong, but today I am forever grateful for what I’ve learned from the nurses.