With the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, many of us are on the brink of being able to return to the world, including me. I’m so looking forward to the resumption of much of my life, but I also want to give some serious thought about how I return to the world. What about you?
Walking into a miracle
On Saturday I got in a Zipcar and drove on a highway for the first time in over a year to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, to get my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I’m not a fan of American football, so Gillette was a new adventure for me (the New England Revolution play there, so perhaps I may find myself there in the future for a rest-of-the-world’s-football match).
As I walked toward the stadium when it was time for my appointment, I broke out into the widest grin underneath my mask. I got a little teary when I got inside, and thanked every worker I saw. It felt like walking into a miracle.
The end in sight
I rode up a couple of escalators to the VIP club which had been transformed into a vaccination clinic, not touching the handrails and hoping that I wouldn’t fall. I honestly hadn’t been around this many people in a year, and I felt a little strange about it. Other than two ladies who’d tried to enter the clinic mask-free (seriously!), everyone kept their distance and appeared to be as dazed and in awe as I was. Waiting in the fast-moving line, I checked out the stadium and snapped some photos.
And then I met the two women who saved my life, one by vaccinating me, and the other by booking my next appointment. In order to keep from utterly sobbing, I cracked jokes with them. I thanked them, and Dolly Parton (she helped to fund the Moderna vaccine) profusely. Dr. Fauci, too. I got a button declaring my vaccinated status and then waited in the observation area. As I sat, I added an event to my calendar. May 8: Immunity Day.
When my observation time was up, I took advantage of the opportunity to walk out onto the balcony reserved for the rich people. Soccer players (perhaps the Revolution?) practiced on the field. On my way out, I chatted briefly with the volunteer and thanked him too. Really, I was just a total dork.
A hermit’s story
I listened to an NPR story on the drive home about a hermit from Northern Maine. For twenty-seven years, he did not interact with more than a handful of people until he was arrested for over a thousand petty burglaries that had made him a legend. The North Pond Hermit, as he became known as, lived deep in the Maine woods, adhering to his own radical ethic of noninteraction, stealing what he needed to survive.
The story, a repeat from 2019, about a book written in 2015, would have sounded very different to a NPR listener during the BeforeTimes than it did to me in 2021, driving back to Somerville after a year of isolation from a plague.
We’ve all engaged in a radical act of noninteraction with humanity for over a year. I’ve not been a willing hermit these last months. But, if I’m being honest, it hasn’t been all bad, and I’m having some unusual feelings about the thought of it coming to an end. Something about this break, by which I mean a complete rupture of life as I knew it, I desperately needed.
Obviously, I wish this had never happened. So many dead, so many livelihoods destroyed. Healthcare workers pushed to the brink. Women forced to leave the workforce in droves. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences like graduations canceled. When I think of what my nephew and nieces have missed out on over the last year, my heart breaks.
I miss my family and my friends. I miss travel. Restaurants. Museums. Sweaty concerts. Movies. Crowds. An unquiet neighborhood.
And yet. I find myself remembering an earlier time in my life when I could miss out on things, because I had no choice.
A personal history, rhyming
History may not repeat, but it does rhyme, the saying goes. My personal history rhymes a bit here.
I lost my job in the 2008 crash, and it took me the better part of two years to find another full-time job. I burned through my retirement savings, and it took me three years in that new job to make what I had made before.
I would not wish what happened to me on anyone. And I was incredibly lucky.
Then, as now, though, when my world grew small, I found joy in it. I took long walks. I read phenomenology, and I wrote. With so many people in my industry out of work, I made some amazing friends through “networking” events. I learned how to cook with gas.
I had time.
Aside from the crushing poverty, I’ve often joked about that time, I really miss it.
However grateful I was to return to the full-time working world, I did not have much control over how I returned. I had a desktop computer in an office over an hour’s bus ride away, so the commute was non-negotiable. Just like that, my time vanished.
FONMO: Fear of Not Missing Out
While we still run the risk of another Covid wave as states try to open their economies too soon, and variants keep cropping up, the Covid-19 vaccine offers real hope for ending this plague. With that hope comes the possibility of returning to “normal.”
Normal means plans. Schedules. Obligations. Commitments. Workplaces.
It means not missing out.
In “The Coming Nostalgia for Hyper-Nesting,” a recent Atlantic article, Devon Powers writes about this strange phenomenon of loving some parts of our Covid prison.
Apart from appreciating COVID cocoons, many people have determined that the “old normal” may not be worth it. That might involve seeing the benefits of working less, traveling less, and buying less. Or it might mean feeling incapable or unwilling to move at the pace that pre-pandemic life required. Fond memories of the pandemic, whenever they come, may be driven less by an affection for today’s hardships and more by fear and stress over tomorrow’s demands.Devon Powers
I want my life back and my time too
I feel that stress now. I find myself already missing my time. For however much I’ve felt trapped and as though everything that I’ve loved about my life been assaulted by this plague, I have had time. Time to read. Time to write. Time for long walks. What do I do on Saturday nights? I cook myself a lovely dinner.
For the first time in ten years, I have had sustained time to think.
This time, I do not want to lose it.
Frank Bruni also wrote about the impending normal in “When Sweatpants Are Epiphanies,” and I think that he’s onto something.
If we have learned to love something about our lives now, we should try to hang onto it.
We should try to control how we return to the world.
From the unfathomable loss and grinding horror of this pandemic, shouldn’t we wring some positives, including a recognition that we don’t have to do everything as we once did, that bits of what was imposed on us over the past 12 months amounted to improvements and that some of the alternate routes, contingency plans and risk-conscious behavior that we latched on to have lasting merit?Frank Bruni
Thinking about my life in the new world
Unlike the last time I returned to the world, I’d like to have more control over how I return this time.
I’m looking forward to so much, but I still want to miss out sometimes, too.
I’ve given a lot of thought about what I want my life to be in the new world. Where I want to do my work. How busy I want to get.
How I want to spend my time.
I’ll be posting over the next month about returning to the world in a considered way, and I’d like to hear from you.
What are you thinking and feeling about your life after the Covid-19 vaccine? Have you been vaccinated already? I’d love to hear in the comments.