I got my first shot of the Moderna vaccine January 5. As I walked from the vaccine injection booth to the open observation room where I was to sit for 15 minutes to be monitored for a reaction, I felt like I had completed a dangerous journey. I walked through tumultuous waves made of concern, fear, debate, much scientific investigation and even more emotional reckoning and soul searching that had occupied most of my time, awake or asleep for weeks.
“I need to bench Gomel”, I said to myself.
” Blessed are You, Lord our God/Goddess, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.”
The Birkat HaGomel prayer is recited after one has come through a dangerous occurrence or situation. In the Talmud: Tractate Brachot 54b, the referred to physical dangers are a hazardous desert or sea crossing, healing from a life-threatening illness, and being freed from jail, I presume in one piece. Of course, there is much discourse as to what makes something dangerous and about adding other situations as well. The prayer has become an integral part of trauma healing where there are many perilous places we must traverse on our journey.
One is also required to recite Gomel in the presence of a minyan and to hear their rejoinder. “May he/she who rewarded you with all goodness reward you with all goodness forever.” Call and response is a form of being witnessed. My minyan was the patients and nurses in the room. This was a treacherous crossing of the roiling sea of my emotions and my alternative health practice beliefs. I went from never even getting a flu vaccine to accepting a vaccine that was raising many red flags of caution. But when I read that COVID-19 can cross the blood brain barrier my tentative yes to the vaccine became a crystal-clear absolute yes. So, I had either just saved my life or put it at risk. I choose to believe the former.
When the Temple stood, the prayer was accompanied by an offering-Korban Todah-, a Thanksgiving Offering of gratitude for surviving a said danger. But the goats have long bleated their last. Instead, we find more acceptable ways to fulfill this. I figured while I was being monitored and having the snacks provided, I would think of what an offering might be. ‘I got this’, I thought. I perused the post-vaccine buffet and chose a ‘treat’ and a bottle of water. “I got this’, I said to myself again and planned to sit on my Moderna laurels of bravery and munch till I was cleared to leave.
But the moment I sat on the chair at the observation table my I got this bravado melted to tears that I held behind my mask. I thought about all of those who died and those who survived but are still suffering with long term effects. I felt the yearning of the many people who want the vaccine but who will have to wait. I realized that I was one of the lucky ones. I can still stay sequestered and supported if I need. We really don’t know how much any vaccine will assuage this virus, but I wanted to be part of the solution if it would help. I also wanted to take care of myself.
I managed to collect myself. The Ritz crackers, that I allowed myself to eat as a way of comfort, no-grain diet be damned, helped. I opened a packet and offered it as a Korban to a potted plant that was under a sunny window by my seat. I imagined myself at the Temple. The aroma of the incense we will never be able to replicate wrapped itself around me like a tallit. I repeated the affirmation I had been saying all morning. After reciting the prayer I added ‘My whole being, physical, energetic, mental and emotional accepts this vaccine with calm and appreciation.’ I sat down to quell any side effect fears.
The ubiquitous ‘They’ said there are no dangerous side effects, well, not many, and few people would get them. ‘They’ also said that what side effects there may be are telling you that your immune system is working and being trained. These symptoms are a short lived and welcome response. In other words, maybe you will feel a little something for a day, two at the most. Okay, then. No big deal.
However, it was the biggest deal. It loomed wide around me. It placed its sleek hands on my head and pushed my mind so far into my body that I could see the newly injected serum careen through me. I could feel it laying itself over my bones, flowing into my blood and entering my cells. It had a mission and all I could do was witness its progress. I was powerless to stop it. I was at the mercy of its strength. I had to yield to it. I had agreed to this. I had decided to do this despite my reservations. It was a done deal, and it was a big deal.
But then it dawned on my quivering heart that this vaccine is not made of toxins and unknowns. This vaccine is made of love. The love of the scientists that created it and medical staff that are filling us with it. And I was so grateful that I was on the other side of this ocean.