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Jim O’Brien: A swift and well-aimed kick in the tail prompts a much-needed bout of mature reflection

A short, sharp piece of negative feedback to my Covid vaccination rant strikes home and makes me appreciate how fortunate we are

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Hard questions: Our demand for swift vaccination here in the West reeks of entitlement Photo: Reuters

Hard questions: Our demand for swift vaccination here in the West reeks of entitlement Photo: Reuters

Hard questions: Our demand for swift vaccination here in the West reeks of entitlement Photo: Reuters

I remember being out for a pint with a friend, in the days when such things were possible. We sat at the counter in a local hostelry sipping the black nectar of James’s Gate when a man came up and introduced himself to me as a regular reader of the column.

I shook his hand and thanked him for taking the time to read my scribbles.

In the course of a brief conversation he leaned in close and, with eyes as wide as saucers, he asked me how I manage to find something to write about every week. It was as if he was seeking admission to my chamber of secrets or asking how I get the figs into the fig-rolls.

Before I had a chance to describe the angst-ridden task that faces the weekly columnist, my drinking companion answered for me: “Sure, some weeks he writes about nothin’. I don’t know how he gets away with it.”

They both had a good laugh at my expense and went on to ignore me entirely when they discovered a mutual interest in the amateur blood sport that is junior hurling.

Meanwhile, sitting there staring at my pint, I imagined my bruised ego sinking through the creamy froth down into the oblivion of its blackness.

It can indeed be difficult to find something to write about every seven days, especially when one is confined to the four walls and the drill square, where inspiration and causation are in less than plentiful supply.

But thankfully, there is always something to trigger the thought process and this week it took the form of a proverbial kick in the west end. It was delivered on foot of my most recent offering, where I admitted to vaccine envy and ranted about the slow pace of vaccine roll-out.

I got much positive feedback and discovered that the world loves a rant.

But I also got a swift and well-aimed kick in the tail. It was delivered by a woman who reminded me that envy is a wasteful emotion and suggested I should say my prayers and wait my turn.

That took the swagger out of my gait, gave me a lot to think about and more than enough to write about. I found myself moping around, examining my conscience and engaging my envious and cantankerous self in a much-needed bout of mature reflection.

I have to agree that envy is about as useful as breaking wind in a spacesuit. It might spur one on to work harder and achieve something, but that can result in a hollow victory and a lot of effort spent doing the right deed for the wrong reason.

Envy takes away any appreciation of what one has and replaces it with an obsession about what one doesn’t have.

When it comes saying my prayers, it’s not something I do a lot of. Praying can, of course, mean different things. If it means asking an almighty power to change the course of events, I’m not too sure that works.

However, if it means centring oneself, quietening oneself down and taking time to get a broader perspective on life, I certainly don’t do enough of that sort of thing.

The last part of the woman’s suggestion, advising me to wait my turn, is probably the one that strikes home hardest and leaves me with the greater questions.

Why should I, a white middle-class man living in a wealthy democracy be vaccinated ahead of a nurse working on the front line in Malawi?

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Why should I expect to have a vaccine ahead of an 80-year-old man in Guatemala or a young woman with asthma in a refugee camp in Syria?

Our demand for swift vaccination here in the West reeks of entitlement. We all know the primary targets of the virus: older people, those with underlying conditions and frontline health workers.

 

Pecking order

The pecking order for the vaccine is guided by vulnerability, that is until it comes to wealth and influence; those of us in the wealthiest countries are getting everything that is going and getting it first.

Perfectly healthy people in their thirties are being vaccinated in the US. It could be 2023 before vulnerable people in the poorest countries are reached.

When I finish writing this I’m going to make a cup of tea. When I turn on the tap to fill the kettle, clean water will flow out. When I plug it in and flick a switch, a reliable supply of electricity will ensure it starts to boil immediately.

There is milk in the fridge and food on the shelves.

I have nothing and no-one to be envious of; any prayer I might utter should be one of thanksgiving, and it mightn’t be a bad idea to sit in peace and cultivate the good grace to wait my turn.


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