Are you ready to go out there? For all appearances, it seems we made it. Masks are coming off; restrictions are being lifted. Life, as we knew it, is returning to normal after more than a year of isolation, confusion, disease and death. Restaurants are bustling, students have been in school for months, meetings are resuming in person. But are we back to normal?
What will re-entry mean for those of us who maybe got used to staying home, baking bread, using Zoom and cutting our own hair? For some, going out triggers a near-PTSD reaction to the sheer magnitude of crowds of people laughing, talking, drinking after we were told how dangerous those activities were. And what about the people who flaunted the precautions all along? What must their understanding be of the past year of totally different behavior and social activity? Vindication? Indignation? Certainly not vaccination.
We were in Maine recently after the Governor lifted the mask requirement for vaccinated people indoors. In the grocery store there were just as many mask-less people as there were masked. I stayed masked, because there was still a sign on the door for people to do so. Also, because the virus is still out there. Granted, cases are going down and vaccinations are up, but as of May 2021, the CDC reported 1,949 breakthrough cases, or those who have contracted the virus after being fully vaccinated. Of that number, 353 cases—people—resulted in death. So, say a person chooses not to get a vaccine for whatever reason and then stops wearing a mask, because the restrictions are lifted, doesn’t that mean that person is still vulnerable? That person can get and transmit the virus and, it seems to me, continue to pose a risk to everyone else. “Everyone else” meaning the people who can’t get the vaccine; because of health reasons or who are at risk because of the medications they’re on. When are we going to all be in this together?
This is a good point at which to take some time to think about what “normal” is again. A year of pandemic revealed much about our country; how we come together—or not—in a time of crisis. It was a time that unsettled so many families with the stress of losses, financial insecurity and the oppressive threat of being unable to find safety for oneself and those we love. Or, as Good Morning America anchor Dan Harris says. “I don’t think we need to sugarcoat it, I think we could just clearly call it what it is, which is a dumpster fire, from the pandemic to the political polarization to the reckoning around race that we have appropriately been having over the last 14 months, it’s all been extremely difficult.”
There was a clear divide between what was “out there” and what each of us had to create for ourselves and our families inside—in our homes–in order to endure an unprecedented crisis in our lifetimes. This will not likely be so easy to restore after such an experience. Angelo and I created a safe place in our “bubble”—the mostly controlled environment where we knew we were heeding precautions, washing our hands, staying safe. Like many, even though it was hard and scary, we made the best of the lockdown, the limitations, the absence of seeing our children. For me and Angelo and others who were able to find comfort during the threat, we were able to discover a renewed appreciation for the benefits of slowing down and taking pleasure in the certainty of sunshine, good scents from the kitchen, the conversations—even virtually—with our children and grandchildren.
Perhaps we can preserve some of that appreciation and blend it with the acceptance that science is giving us new and updated information based on the past year of chaos. As we return to a new normal maybe we can leave behind the unsustainable demands and dysfunctional adaptations that our society assumed and found necessary for the sake of satisfying avarice, envy, pride and other deadly sins. Reentry is both exhilarating and challenging. Everyone has their own level of comfort with doing so. It will continue to take patience and thoughtfulness as we make room for our friends and family who may still wear a mask, keep their distance and forego gatherings as much as it will take acceptance and tolerance for those who are acting like they’re college kids on Spring Break. Now, as during the lockdown, we are asked simply to be human. Back to normal doesn’t mean we can’t ever change, in fact, it seems we already have.