by Brittany White
I know everyone has their opinions and rituals about the flu shot. Some people get it every year like clockwork. Others have never gotten it and have never gotten the flu. Personally, I grew up in a household where we got it every year. As I have gotten older though, sometimes I like to “walk on the wild side” (as my mother would say) and not get one.
This year, we all saw the news stories about the flu epidemic. It seemed far worse this year. I saw the stories. My parents kept telling me to go get a flu shot, and I didn’t. I kept traveling and kept working crossing my fingers after every college visit hearing that lots of members were out with the flu and just hoping it didn’t happen to me.
Then, one of my best friends from graduate school, Thomas, calls me in a panic. He said, “Brittany, I just saw a news story that says the two worst places that the flu is spreading is on college campuses and airplanes – that is literally your life, please got get the flu shot.” Thomas is one of those friends who can keep things in perspective, so when he told me to do it, I did it.
I set up an appointment at CVS to get the shot. I was early, so I decided to wander around and return a few phone calls. By the time I came back to the waiting area, there is a frantically pacing mother and her son. He looks like he is about eight-years-old, and he doesn’t looked pleased. You could see the worry on his face. I assumed he wasn’t feeling well – he probably had the flu.
Once his mother realized I was in front of them, she approached me. I thought she was about to tell me that he had the flu and about all of the students in his school out sick. She looks at me with the utmost concern and says, “He is afraid of getting the [flu] shot. Would you mind if we went in front of you?”
I said, “No. Would he feel better if we got it together?” Her eyes lit up. She turned to her son and said, “Noah* this lady is also afraid of getting the flu shot. Will you hold her hand and then she can hold yours?”
Noah kind of looks at me with this side-eye. So, I affirm his mom and say, “Noah, I’d really like a friend while I get my shot.” He sort-of shrugs his shoulders and says he’ll be my friend. I’m pumped. I’ve made a new friend.
Then, the nurse walks out and his mother goes frantically up to her and tells her that we are going to get our shots together. The nurse sort of looks at me like, “Do what?”
I told her that I offered for us to get them together because I’m a little scared to do it alone. I go in, give her all of my medical info, then the nurse goes out to get Noah and his mom. I hear them talking and then she comes back in without my new friend Noah.
“He decided not to get his shot.”
Y’all, I was CRUSHED. I knew this eight-year-old for approximately 5 minutes and the fact that he abandoned me in my time of need really hurt. I felt so rejected.
Rejection is a weird thing. Our brains react to rejection far more intensely than physical pain. As humans, we are social creatures. Historically, as hunter/gatherers we relied on our tribe of other humans for survival. Being rejected by our tribe had negative consequences for our means of survival and so our brain reacts accordingly. With rejection comes blows to our self-esteem. I thought I had a new friend and almost as quickly as I had a new friend, he pulled the rug out from under me. Was I not friendly enough? Was I not cool enough? Maybe I look scary since I didn’t put on makeup this morning? All of these things were running through my head because of a random eight-year-old.
Then I started thinking about the social component of fraternity and sorority. We look to our organizations to have our group or tribe on campus. But what about the rejection we face within our own organizations? Most of the time when people leave our organizations it is due, in part, to the sense of rejection. Rejection is so painful for so many of us that we avoid thinking about it entirely because of the pain it causes us to feel.
My hope is that we can do a better job of identifying when we feel rejected –so we can have more empathy for others who are experiencing rejection. Its not easy or comfortable. Our world needs more empathy, and to some extent that requires us to better understand and identify rejection. Even when it is coming from an 8-year-old that you just met.
*Noah is not this kid’s real name, and even though he hurt my feelings, I sincerely hope he didn’t get the flu.