When I was younger, it used to annoy me to no end that my parents held me to a different standard of behavior than my siblings. It chafed when my brother got away with misbehavior that I couldn’t, and I wondered why I always had to go see the movie my sister wanted to see, instead of whatever I wanted to see.

Now that I am (much) older and (a little bit) wiser, I know it’s because, as oldest children themselves, my parents both knew that being the oldest automatically makes you a leader for your siblings. Whether I wanted them to or not, and whether they wanted to admit to it or not, the younger kids look up to the oldest one. So I had to Set An Example.

Even my dog, Janey, knows that setting an example is one of the most important things a leader can do – at her doggy day care, they put her in the puppy playgroup because she is good at showing them the right (read: gentle) way to play. (Yes, I’m very proud.) It’s amazing how many of our elected leaders don’t get this. Senators mingling maskless in the Capitol. The governor of California at a birthday party, indoors, at a restaurant, in violation of his own pandemic guidelines. The words I have for these folks participating in risky behavior cannot be printed in this newspaper, so let’s just go with “putzes.” Putzes, all of them.

First impressions are important because it is hard to move past them. Our first impression of COVID-19, all the way at the beginning of this long and pretty awful year, was one of hand sanitizer and soap and bleach wipes. The science has moved on since then. Now we know that, while it is technically possible to catch coronavirus from a contaminated surface, the primary mode of transmission is droplets in the air. That is: It’s a disease that spreads when people spend time indoors together. Masks help cut down on transmission, but, like condoms, they are effective only when worn properly, and worn every time. (And if someone whines about not wanting to use either one, you should stay a minimum of 6 feet away from them.)

If coronavirus were a disease that could be stopped with Purell and Clorox wipes, it would never have turned into an American pandemic. Americans are, as a whole, great at solving problems if the solution is buying things. They are not great at solving problems when the solution involves changing their behavior, particularly in ways that involve personal sacrifice.

If you told an average person that, unless they stayed inside for nine months (excepting a weekly grocery run), their grandmother would die, most of them would absolutely shut themselves indoors. If you told a parent that if they ate indoors at a restaurant at any point in the next year, their child would end up with permanent heart damage, they would probably go two years without going to a restaurant, just to be safe. But unfortunately, most coronavirus scenarios are not nearly as cut and dried. It’s hard to prove when something does not happen – do you know exactly how many accidents you prevent every year by driving the speed limit?

The way to prevent spreading or catching the coronavirus is to stay away from other human beings. Unfortunately, Homo sapiens is a social species. The actions required to fight this pandemic go against thousands of years of brain wiring.

My parents also drilled fire safety into us very early and very intensely – after all, our house was made of wood and heated with fireplaces. And the most important lesson they taught us was: If there’s a fire, do not stop to grab any possessions. Drop everything and run. Objects can be replaced. People cannot.

Trust me, I’m as bored and antsy in isolation as anyone in Maine. I mean, I’m 28 and I’ve been single for almost a year. So I’m not having the best time. Wearing a mask for eight hours every day somehow makes my skin both dry and sweaty at the same time. See, I’ve also started a new job. I’m working in a medical facility (don’t worry – I’m not a health care provider). We see a lot of cancer patients. And I see reflections of my dad and my uncle Tim in every one of them. I think about them when I feel tempted to go somewhere other than work or home or the parking lot of the doggy day care. I love Maine. I’ve given up so much for this state. And this state is nothing without its people.

I’m scared for all of us. I’m worried about the oncoming winter. Objects can be replaced. Economies can be rebuilt. But we cannot bring back the people we lose.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial


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