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The joy of the jab

I was caught completely off guard when it happened. It was a Monday morning, and I was in the produce section of our local Fred Meyer store.

Six feet from me, a woman around my age was making decisions about which avocados to purchase. She looked up, met my gaze and gave me a joyous smile.

The store had, that very day, instituted a policy stating vaccinated people did not have to wear masks. I was unmasked and she was too. I had forgotten how an unexpected, radiant smile elevates mood and improves attitude. I did a little “pay it forward” gesture and smiled broadly at the next unmasked person I encountered. He smiled back — and winked.

If you are unvaccinated or know someone who is still waffling about getting “the jab,” as they refer to it in Great Britain, I remind you that an exchange between smiling, unmasked faces is an unheralded benefit. The vaccination is life-changing. The unexpected impact of a long-awaited smile might be as well.

After I received my second dose of Moderna a few months ago, I did a little hallelujah dance and let out a war hoop. We were in a very public setting, and my husband seemed a bit embarrassed by my behavior — although I suspect he was smiling under his mask.

Post-pandemic behavior and post-vaccination joy take many forms. For people who were vaccinated in a pharmacy setting, purchases of boxed wine and chocolate were reportedly most frequent. One woman from California is said to have spied a box of Russell Stover chocolates, “ripped open the cellophane" and began eating right away. When she checked out the purchase, half-a-box by then, the cashier offered her tissues to “clean off the chocolate smears on her lips and fingers.” I envision a half-masked smile on her face.

A woman from Portland bought chocolate too — a big pile of gourmet chocolate bars — around which she wrapped a large festive bow. She gave it to the person who administered her jab, asking him to share it with other staff. Chocolate gratitude.

Those illustrations were taken from a survey by New York Times journalists who surfaced actions and impulse buys that acknowledged the vaccination moment. One woman from Florida purchased the Drakkar Noir perfume she wore as a teenager, saying, “I have no idea why I bought it. I haven’t worn perfume since 2002.”

A woman from New Jersey bought old-fashioned hair curlers to deal with her “crazy long COVID hair,” saying she wanted to give it a little celebratory pizzazz.

If you’re vaccinated, you should be celebrating. Thoughtfully, of course — making the decision to mask up again if a situation demands it. Staying tuned to public health advisors about variants and aware that kids under age 12 do not have a vaccination option right now.

Maybe that’s yet another reason to get vaccinated if you have not done so already — because our “littles,” those beloved children and grandchildren, cannot. Definitely another reason.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.