The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For a minute, we boomers were special again. Now they’ll let anyone get a vaccine.

The glory was fleeting and the reclaimed youth an illusion

A man receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Sunday at a pop-up vaccination site in Miami Beach, Fla. (David Santiago/AP)
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You remember me, don’t you? I’m a baby boomer, a member of the post-World War II generation that shook the world. We were big, we were loud, we had sex and drugs and music, we rebelled, we protested. Nobody ever called us the Greatest Generation, but so what. Boomers were special and everybody knew it. Sure, it changed when we got older and slower and started dying off. Young people blamed us for polluting the planet and draining Social Security, and they snickered at our computer skills. When they thought we weren’t looking, they rolled their eyes at us. Sometimes, in our darker hours, it occurred to us that we might not be special any longer.

Then, something happened. The coronavirus vaccinations. In December, January and February, vaccine supplies were limited and everyone was desperate for them. Because of our vulnerability and advanced age, baby boomers got to go first. We stepped up and stuck out our arms and took our medicine. Recall how brave we were: No hesitation, no whining. Just legendary baby boomer grit and self-sacrifice.

After that, you probably saw my husband and me on Facebook, grinning wildly and showing off our vaccine cards like they were Phi Beta Kappa certificates. “We’re blessed!” we announced on Instagram and Twitter, confessing how choked up we had gotten at the vaccine sites. Or maybe you glimpsed us at restaurants, noisily mugging and hugging other vaccinated boomer friends. I know — we did make a spectacle of ourselves, loudly asking one another which vaccine we’d received and claiming to feel sorry for everybody else, still stuck at home. But we didn’t waste too much time on sympathy. We quickly moved on to boasting about our first airline flights across the country to see our grandchildren in more than a year. (Yes, they’d missed us terribly.) And wasn’t it wonderful to fly when the airports and planes weren’t so crowded?

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Who could blame us if we got a little carried away? After decades of decline and ignominy — not to mention varicose veins and jokes about adult diapers — boomers were basking in admiration once again, special once more, the envy of the world. Just where we belonged! It was cool to be old, we told one another, when we crossed paths at dinner parties and cafes. Old and immune, anyway. Good lord, it was wonderful. No wonder so many of us took up gloating as a hobby.

But February turned into March, and then we barreled into April. All of a sudden, the world shifted. More than 100 million Americans had been fully vaccinated and, out of nowhere, the desperation for Pfizer or Moderna or Johnson & Johnson had ebbed. Nobody waited in line any longer, nobody bragged about scoring a shot. And nobody seemed terribly impressed with us, the early vaccinated, any longer.

“Don’t worry about getting on the elevator with me,” I thoughtfully reassured a younger woman in our condo a couple weeks ago. “I’m already vaccinated!”

She looked deeply bored. “Yeah, me, too,” she muttered, punching her floor number.

“And she couldn’t have been a day over 40,” I told my husband later, resentfully. “Or maybe even 30. It’s hard to tell these days.”

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That’s when I started noticing: The sidewalks were overflowing, the traffic was back and you couldn’t get a reservation in a restaurant if you weren’t the chef’s first cousin. The world had cracked open again, moving at a frenetic pace. It seemed as if everybody who wanted to get vaccinated had gotten vaccinated. (And the ones who hadn’t were being bribed, for crying out loud. You can get a free beer in the D.C. if you get a shot. You could win a barbecue grill in Kentucky or collect a bag of produce in Los Angeles. Employees are getting bonuses and swag.)

Just like that, boomers were no longer envied, no longer special. Everybody had caught up with us, then passed us, kicking a little dirt as they rocketed ahead and collected their little rewards. Just like that, our moment in the sun was over.

“I guess I thought it would last longer,” I told my husband. “You know — that we’d have just a little more time.”

The truth is, it was gone before we could really appreciate it. Just like youth, now that I think about it. Exactly like that.