Over the past 15 years, my husband and I have done countless things together, but had you told me that one day we would be receiving vaccinations to help stop a global pandemic, I never would have believed you. A few weeks ago, though, that's exactly what we did as we walked hand-in-hand into the Orr Building at the Sangamon County Fairgrounds.
Standing side by side, we let a young man in an Air National Guard uniform swipe a digital thermometer across our foreheads while we answered questions from a list that has become all too familiar. No, to our knowledge, we had not been exposed to anyone with COVID. No, neither of us had any symptoms of COVID-19. No, we were not awaiting pending COVID test results and no, we had not recently tested positive for COVID-19. Together, we quietly moved down to the next volunteer and presented her with our legal forms of identification and matching insurance cards. From there, we moved to a nearby table and filled out some paperwork before we were escorted to a waiting area until it was our turn to be vaccinated. Looking out into the huge room filled with hundreds of uniformed volunteers and masked citizens awaiting their vaccines, it was impossible for me not to feel overwhelmed.
It's been a tough year for me. While some people decided early on that they weren't going to let COVID run their lives, the fear of getting someone sick turned me into a Myrmidon. Because of this, I haven't hugged my parents in over a year and I wasn't at Thanksgiving dinner when my youngest sister surprised my family by announcing that she was expecting her first child. When friends invited me to join them for dinner, I politely declined and then spent days agonizing over whether my friendships were strong enough to survive on texts alone. As an extrovert, I have felt the absence of other human beings so acutely that many times during the past year, it seemed as if there was a rock sitting in the pit of my stomach.
For these reasons and many more, when my husband and I were finally able to schedule our vaccines, we jumped at the chance and I will never forget how being in the Orr Building made me feel. Throughout history, there are events that get perfectly etched into people's memories because of the weight of their importance, and for me, this was one of those moments.
For the rest of my life, I will remember what the inside of the Orr Building looked like. I'll remember the efficiency, the compassion and the humor I felt from Air National Guard members. I'm sure that nothing could have prepared them for the myriad of emotions they would bear witness to over these past few weeks, and they have been spectacular. I'll remember the wave of relief that washed over me when the nurse handed me a tiny, green "vaccinated" sticker; she may as well have given me the winning Powerball ticket, because I felt like I had hit the jackpot. I'll remember looking back at my husband, as we sat six feet apart in the waiting area, and knowing we were on the right side of history.
I know that a lot of people are apprehensive about getting the COVID vaccine, and I'm not here to convince you that it's safe; that's a job I'll leave to scientists and medical experts. What I am here to tell you is that even though we are technically still in the tunnel, there's finally a light ahead, and it's a beautiful sight to behold.
Lana Shovlin is a fully vaccinated mother of three who lives in Springfield. She looks forward to smothering other vaccinated family and friends with bear hugs in the very near future.