Op-Ed: Be Careful (of Each Other) Out There

Seeing his shadow (Photo: MvB)

Last week, I wrote a post asking if Washington was losing the war on whooping cough, and in response, a reader wrote in to mention that his whole family had contracted first pertussis, then pneumonia (despite two of the three being up-to-date on their pertussis vaccines), and were using albuterol to keep their blood oxygen levels up. I commiserated, and, also as if in response, came down with pneumonia myself. I spent Sunday morning in a doctor’s office populated exclusively by people with ferocious colds, departing with a prescription for antibiotics.

My week of convalescence was made notable by reading of death after death around western Washington, beginning with a diver off West Seattle, a Capitol Hill resident and Microsoft employee, and four people killed by avalanches, three skiers and one snowboarder. (Laboring to breathe regularly lent an uncomfortable empathy with these stories.)

It wasn’t just the great outdoors that seemed unduly perilous: A Washington State Patrol trooper was shot to death, before his alleged killer shot himself. In Bremerton, an 8-year-old girl was almost killed when a .45 in a classmate’s backpack went off. Two men were shot (to death, it transpired) down on Rainier Avenue South. Police also released surveillance video of the man shot and killed on Harvard Avenue on Capitol Hill in January. Shooting deaths were a primary topic of Mayor McGinn’s state of the city address.

“We have to stick together,” wrote North Seattle Sarah, about a shooting in Woodland Park.

Sitting at home alone with Netflix for company gave me some time to reflect on the tension in all these events: contagion, grief, and fearful suspicion all have a socially damaging (if not severing) quality. When it’s not safe outside, we bunker in, give a little extra weight to security. When someone bearing bowls of soup arrives at your door, they seem to you, unsteady with illness, the best kind of angel.

Winter is not yet over: “A strong Pacific front is approaching us now, behind which there is some cold air,” reports meteorologist Cliff Mass, calling for strong winds and the possibility of lowland snow. It’s not our habit, in health and good spirits, to remark too feelingly on our own life’s contingency. When it comes to mortality, we all procrastinate as much as possible. But very simple things make a hard week better. Soup, I can vouch for. Also, a kind word, laughter, a small consideration: These go a long way when someone else’s resources are in short supply, and this is a good time to share.