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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

The complicated calculus of our lives

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I notched a milestone last week. The number of people I know personally who have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine crossed into double digits.

They include a physician assistant, a teacher, someone with underlying conditions, and a whole bunch who hit the age lottery.

I felt good for them, and for me. Not that I had anything to do with it. It certainly wasn’t my accomplishment in any way. But I felt good about it all the same. Not because of what it might mean for my personal health and safety, but because of what it says about where our country is headed in this difficult virus fight.

That’s pretty much how we measure life, isn’t it? Our outlook is shaped by weighing the balance of the good and the bad in our lives. It’s a complicated calculus, especially at a time like this, when there are so many forces to weigh, some monstrously large and many others immeasurably small.

So you feel good about people you know getting vaccinated, and about more vaccinations being given everywhere, and about vaccine production ramping up, and about attitudes on taking the vaccine creeping in the right direction, and about infection rates and hospitalizations and deaths slowly but surely falling — even as you are disquieted by uncertainty over virus variants that are sprouting like weeds and worries over how well the vaccines will protect against them and concerns over previous dips in case counts that were followed by deadly surges.

It’s a balance, and optimism is inching ahead.

And you look at the frightfest in Texas, where severe winter weather knocked out most of the state’s power grid, leaving millions — literally, millions — of people without power or light or heat or, in many cases, water or food. And you worry about the fragility of critical parts of our infrastructure and lament the terrible toll it can take on innocent people and mourn the dozens who lost their lives — even as you see that there are more and more people who now understand that extreme weather is not rare but common and who now believe that preparation and adaptation is needed to withstand and change such weather and who now know that ignoring science and not regulating something as important as a power grid can have disastrous consequences.

It’s a balance, and you wonder whether you can feel good that truth might be gaining a foothold.

And you look at the Perseverance rover landing on Mars, an audacious feat of imagination and engineering that safely brought the vehicle to the planet’s surface after a 300 million-mile journey. And you think about this $2.7 billion marvel and the tiny helicopter it carries to test flight on the red planet and the device it contains to make oxygen from the thin carbon dioxide-laden Martian atmosphere and the possibility it will help answer fundamental questions about life in the universe and you feel a surge of pride at the wondrous capabilities of humans — even as you consider the awful acts of violence and repression being perpetrated by members of our own species against other humans.

It’s a balance, and you hope and trust that our capacity for good and goodness will prevail.

And you learn that life expectancy is plummeting from the virus even as you know science and medicine will eventually reverse that, and you see snow and sleet and freezing rain buffeting us even as spring waits giddily around the corner.

It’s all a balance, and we tip the scale.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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