Dear Carolyn: I am doing my best to stay home and not risk getting covid. My dear husband works in a grocery store but is faithful about mask-wearing. So far, so good. I have faith in masks but think it may still be possible to catch the virus while wearing one.

My problem is that my mother-in-law wants us to come to dinner every two weeks or so. I think she believes God has His hand over us and we are safe. I don't share that conviction. She is starting to resent me for speaking up and refusing to come.

And, really, what difference does it make if my husband goes over and then brings the virus back to me? She is pro-mask but won't wear one. She is also deaf and gets irritated with me when she can't understand me through the mask. My husband, father-in-law, and sister-in-law are no help. They have always catered to her demands.

What do I do? I'm not trying to have a power play here, but I don't want this virus and I don't want her to get it, either. I feel like I'm being an ass when I hold my ground, but I also believe it is the right thing to do.

— Damned if I Do, Sick if I Don't

Damned if I Do, Sick if I Don’t: It is the right thing to do. There’s no belief element to it. There is a virus and there are facts and you’re right.

That’s why you’re not “being an ass” when you hold your ground — you’re being a hero. A loving, sensible, rational, brave, patriotic, strong-as-hell, (borrowing a phrase) total freaking warrior.

I am sorry your mother-in-law’s weakness, and the others’ even weaker weakness in the face of her weakness, mean your heroics are being undermined, possibly someday negated, once per fortnight.

But that doesn’t mean you should cave.

For one thing, your strength is an important example, a standing opportunity for the others to stop putting self-interest and wishful thinking ahead of pandemic necessity. Don’t succumb and make it easy for them to maintain their denial. Exist as counterpressure, even just through your absence. This is a hard ask, and I’m sorry. But you get it, and anyone who grasps pandemic reality bears the added responsibility of living it.

For another thing, as your grocery-employed husband proves, some don’t have the luxury of living the epidemiologist’s dream. And the alternative is not to throw up our hands and declare the effort hopeless — it’s to recognize that when all precautions aren’t possible, the possible precautions become all the more urgent. People who can be vigilant must be for those who can’t. Or won’t.

If it helps, here’s the we-Americans-apparently-like-to-think-we-live-in-our-own-silos version: Think of each discrete covid risk we take as a brick, and imagine stacking these bricks on each other each time we take such a risk. A stack of zero may be impossible, but keeping our own stacks as small as possible, choice by choice, day by day? That is possible. And it helps.

So keep taking your spread-prevention measures, every one you can.

And boost your communication, in writing, with your mother-in-law: a newsy daily email, a running group text, Zoom visits with an assist from the chat feature? Impairments compound isolation, so please offer her safe ways to ease it.

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