The young lady in the change booth at Heathrow inspected my maroon Éire passport.
“So, you are a plastic Paddy?” she said.
This was my first time using my passport, two decades ago, and I was feeling quite proud.
The shiny new passport had already gotten me through the European Union lane, quicker than the regular Arrivals lane, but now the change agent put me in my place. My newness, my American-ness, came through. Plastic, indeed.
I think about her every St. Patrick’s Day when I rummage around for some vaguely green sweater or tie but decline to join any parade that might be taking place.
My second passport, beside my beloved American passport, is courtesy of my grandmother, born in County Waterford in 1875. We lived under the same roof until she died when I was twelve (actually, it was her house, thrifty woman that she was) but I don’t recall her ever talking about the Ireland she left as a teen-ager. (I wrote about her three years ago.)
Being Irish, via a maroon passport, is a state of mind, and I claim to be Irish, deep down inside. I say it is the moody, emotional side, the side that cares. I love to hear the trace of an Irish accent, particularly in women, newscasters on the BBC or Euro News, or the lovely staff at Foley’s on W. 33rd St., and a few friends (they know who they are.)
Last Sunday, Christine Lavin was filling in for John Platt on WFUV-FM, and was host to Maxine Linehan in the studio, singing “Danny Boy” live. (This is not a song most artists rush to perform, just as jazz musicians charge extra for “When the Saints Go Marching In” at Preservation Hall.) But Linehan sang “Danny Boy” and damned if I didn’t get tears in my eyes.
Being Irish is part genetic – and part choice. I had a three-week binge on “Ulysses” back at Hofstra, and now I re-read it every five years or so. I am touched by Seamus Heaney and Frank McCourt and the plays of Brian Friel and Sean O’Casey.
My wife, with her own spouse passport, talks about a visit to Galway or Cork. Our one visit to Ireland (Canadians and Australians and Americans buying all kinds of green souvenirs), I remember the way old men chattered with each other, and one old lady who stopped us on a street corner in Ballsbridge and apologized for the heat wave. (It was 75 Fahrenheit, in July.) I file away some terrible things that have happened on the island. Life is complicated. But there are few days when I don’t remember the maroon passport in my desk, and my grandmother’s gift.
* * *
(Maxine Linehan, below. Go for it, it's St. Patrick's Day.)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.