The Big Moment

We all have those moments in life. Those moments where you get one shot, and only one shot to get it right, and if you get it wrong, the rest of your life will be the worse for it. Or, you could be like me. I got my Big Moment wrong, but it somehow ended up right anyway.

My Big Moment was nine years ago today, when someone asked me where I went to high school. My response was to look at her like she had 12 heads.

A little exposition: I was in some fancy bar in Boston’s financial district. A bar I had never set foot in prior, a bar I have never been in since. It was a Monday, and I was there for some local film-industry event. I had a pocket full of business cards from IFF Boston. I was there to schmooze, to talk about the film festival, then in its fourth year.

I have always been a terrible schmoozer.

While I was there, not schmoozing very well and nursing a bottle of beer, a girl began talking to me. She seemed nice enough, in a “whatever” sort of way. She wasn’t talking about anything remotely related to film production or the festival, and I was looking around for my friend who had come to the event with me. I didn’t see him.

Questions came rapid-fire. I answered each one, patiently if unenthusiastically. Finally came the question: “where are you from?”

“Pennsylvania. Right outside Harrisburg.”

And then it came. The Big Moment.

“Where did you go to high school?”

The question came not from the girl who’d asked all the other questions. It came from her friend, who’d sidled up sometime in mid-interrogation. As noted previously, my response was to look at her like she had 12 heads. If life were like a comic strip, the following thought bubble would have appeared above my head:

What the hell do you care where I went to high school? I just said I was from Pennsylvania. This is Boston.

After an uncomfortable silence, she answered her own question, helpfully, as if to prompt a response: “I went to Bishop McDevitt.”

Is this a quiz? I thought to myself. I’ve heard of Bishop McDevitt. Is that a place I shot a basketball game a couple years back? No, that’s not–  Wait. McDevitt. That’s in Harrisburg. She went to high school in Harrisburg. That’s why she’s asking!

“I went to Cumberland Valley.”

Over the course of the next several minutes, we dated, got married, moved to Virginia, had four kids (two at a time), lost jobs, moved again to Illinois, and now I’m sitting in my blue chair, sipping coffee, listening to my kids play in the next room and wondering where in the blazes nine years went.

All because I screwed up the Big Moment.

Advertisements

Silent Majority

So I haven’t written anything worthwhile in a long time. Welcome back, me.

What’s on my mind today? I’ll tell you what: Measles. Five infants in a Chicago area daycare are on my mind. Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield are on my mind. Herd immunity is on my mind. My two younger children, who received their initial MMR booster, but are for another nine months too young to receive their second, are on my mind. The Montessori school where we send our kids, with its vaccination rate of 85%, is on my mind.

Five infants in a Chicago-area daycare. Every one of them less than a year old. Every one of them too young for the first MMR booster. Every one of them relying on herd immunity to keep safe from disease. What must their parents be feeling at all of this? Vaccination rates in upscale Chicago suburbs are lower than in the majority of the country. It’s possible, maybe likely, that the parents of one of those five kids had no intention of vaccinating. But what of the other four? What must it be like as a parent to watch your child suffer through an awful disease for no other reason than the selfish vanity of those who think they know better?

Speaking of parents who think they know better, I give you Ms. McCarthy. The list of her lies and distortions is too long to enumerate here. But everything she has ever said on the issue (indeed, every argument every anti-vaxxer makes) traces to Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s paper in the late 1990’s that connected the measles vaccine with autism. The less said about that paper or that (now unlicensed) “doctor”, the better. “Debunked” is not a strong enough word to describe how thoroughly that paper has been discredited, yet… It persists. And while the arguments have evolved over the last 15 or so years, their root in that execrable man’s paper have not. Some will still cling to the autism claim. Others will claim it is the preservative, Thimerosal. Others will claim it is the dosing schedule. The surest sign of a liar and a huckster is how easily they will shift from argument to argument, rather than acknowledge the failure of their stance.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all of this, my children are being children. They are very good at that. Childhood seems to suit them. They love their school, where Nora attends kindergarten and Josh and Lia are in the preschool program. And it saddens me to think we may have to remove them from a place they love due to the righteous idiocy of the 15% of parents who failed to vaccinate your choice (and it is a “failure”, no matter how much they will paint it as a “choice”. Lipstick on a pig and all that.) But the second there is a confirmed case of measles here in the far reaches of Sangamon County, we will remove them. My lovely bride (no shrinking violet, she) informed the school of this. The school director suggested she would have the non-vaccinated children stay away from school during the course of an outbreak here, but not good enough.

In my wife’s words:

“I explained that if and when the measles outbreak hits Sangamon County, we are pulling our kids out, because vaccines aren’t 100% and Josh and Lia are too young for the 2nd MMR shot. I also explained that as the public school vaccine rates are all over 95%, this will be a major factor in our enrollment decisions for next year… If enough people take this stand, private schools will change the policies. Likewise, if enough people ask their legislators to remove non-medical immunization exemptions, they will go away.”

As usual, she is right. I’m tired of being the silent majority on this. The anti-vax crowd is loud, and too many people hear them. They do not debate the issue honestly, or in good faith. They rely on junk science, and on disproven and debunked claims. I used to sort of shrug my shoulders in a “what can I do” kind of way. I grimly assumed the only thing that would ever turn them back was when children inevitably (and it IS inevitable) started dying.

I’m not doing that any more. I’ve already buried a child. If I can play the tiniest role in preventing someone else from burying theirs, I will play it as loudly as I can.