by Floyd Nease, Executive Director of the Lamoille Family Center & Healthy Lamoille Valley Steering Team Member

As I write this, my nine-year-old grandson is upstairs attending school ‘virtually’.  So far today, I have attended four ‘virtual’ meetings, written emails and look forward to three more ‘virtual’ meetings before I shut down the laptop for the night. 

All of this virtualization has caused me to ponder the word ‘virtual’.  Virtual used to mean “almost a particular thing or quality, but not quite”.  Now it means “Something that can be done or seen using a computer and therefore without going anywhere or talking to anyone”.  I can’t imagine trying to do my job right now without the convenience of all these ‘virtual’ tools.  Forty years ago, how would we have managed a COVID-19 pandemic without the electronic tools available to us now?  Snail mail, messenger delivery services and landline calls seem like stone age tools in a day of 3D printing and virtual reality headsets.

I used to marvel at the changes my grandmother lived to see.  She was born in 1893 and died in 1979.  From horse drawn wagons to a man on the moon.  These days change comes much faster.  As one who remembers when my family got our first massive tube-filled black and white TV with a 12-inch screen (that same grandmother called it “an instrument of the devil”) and as the guy who refused a computer in my office (I was a late adopter) at Lamoille County Mental Health, I guess I’ve lived to see even more change than she did.  I can now locate myself within a few inches, anywhere on the planet and get directions from there to anywhere else on the planet.  (To be honest, I miss the visceral pleasures of maps and globes).  My cell phone has more computing power than was used to send Neil Armstrong to the moon.  Then there are the Zoom meetings. (To be honest, I miss a good firm handshake).

Which brings me to the point of all this.  With all of our technological prowess, with all that we have available to us in computing power, with our ability to launch satellites and fly to the other side of the planet in 16 hours, with all of that, humans are still at the mercy of a 120 nm (a nanometer=1 billionth of a meter) virus that uses our bodies to reproduce and live out its life.  As it does so, it makes us very sick and might kill us.  Yet for now the only tools we have to avoid getting it or spreading it are rather primitive ones.  Stay at least six feet away from people.  Gather in groups of no greater than 10 (soon to be 2 I am told).  Wear a mask.  Wear latex gloves. 

This tiny bug has forced us all to experience how vulnerable we are as humans.  We have been forced to recognize that we live on a planet with other vulnerable humans, all of whom – all of whom – share the same very real threat.  We even share the same desires – to stay well and keep our loved ones well.  We also all share the same frightful obliviousness about our individual and collective futures.  While it is awful to experience, that we all have COVID-19 in common may well be the silver lining.  At this moment in human history all humans agree, regardless of our culture, nationality, race, ethnicity or use of personal pronouns, that we have something vital in common.  That might be the biggest change I’ve witnessed in my 67 years.  And it just might be a very real source of hope for the future.

Floyd Nease is Executive Director of the Lamoille Family Center (LFC).  Healthy Lamoille Valley is a program of LFC.  Floyd has had a long career as teacher, street worker, clinician, non-profit administrator and Legislator.  He lives in Jericho with his wife, Brigid, and – so far – is able to do 3rd grade math.