Remember when life was “user-friendly?” When we walked around unmasked, bearing hugs and sitting in restaurants less than six feet apart from other diners? Theaters, too, when we settled in next to strangers, and if someone sneezed, we didn’t have an anxiety attack or feel compelled to change our seats. Well, guess what? We’re slowly inching back, still not in full reveal, but carefully merging from sequestered to “get me outta here!”
For over a year now, much like the fairy tale character Rapunzel, I have navigated around my own Ivory Tower, and I even have the hair to prove it. I am sorely in need of being coiffed, but I’m not quite ready to greet my hairdresser, Robert, face to face. That’s because re-entry isn’t as easy as it looks. Just as a long period of isolation took adjustment, escaping from that same isolation takes practice, and there is no refresher course to help us along.
“Not so fast,” I tell a friend when she suggests we meet for lunch on Saturday. “I don’t do restaurants yet.”
Along with that comes a tinge of embarrassment—a feeling that I was rejecting my friend by being overly cautious, and possibly a bit neurotic.
While there is a light at the end of this hibernation, there is also a bit of fear and trepidation that goes along with it. I’m not as spontaneous as I once was (one of my then-favorite attributes), and I am not so quick to accept an invitation on cue. I approach the aptly named “new normal” with cautious optimism; I am not quite sure what lurks on the other side of my mask. Though the world is undeniably opening up and, indeed, becoming more “user-friendly,” I, less so. To be perfectly candid, the life I carved out for myself this past year has worked on many levels. Though cocooned, I felt safe, and I didn’t feel unbearably alone. But now that we are getting vaccinated (I‘ve been jabbed twice), I am still just a bit unsteady on my feet. Freedom, so eagerly anticipated, is also teeming with apprehensions and just might not be all it’s cracked up to be. It needs to be introduced and explored in small doses. But it might take a tincture of time to get our sea legs before shouting, “Hallelujah!”
We are by nature social animals, scurrying about at will without thinking twice. But now I do think twice. I size up situations. I still proceed with caution. I am not entirely an anomaly, since others I know have expressed the same concerns and doubts about what to expect.
So, what’s the proper protocol for apres-pandemic behavior? How do we go from being who we once were to what we think we are supposed to be? Will our good old selves be recognizable, or are our new personae now custom-designed to fit a new world? Will I learn not to wince when, finally, an unmasked face appears in the distance, and will I ever kiss again without feeling squeamish?
In some inexplicable way, I will miss the good old days of this past year—a year of renewed self-discovery. I will miss the ease in which an ordinary day stretched out in front of me without my feeling rushed. A day so warm and welcoming it allowed me time to languish between work, listen to music, read a book, interact with family and friends, and sneak in some chocolate at three o’clock.
For a long time now, solitude felt like a warm hug. It nurtured me. I embraced it. In a word, it felt like a gift. But vaccinations are gifts, too—the best ones ever—and along with that, we can now leave home.
Soon we will be back in the fullness of life, trading lonely for living, and, in the end, to that I say, “Bravo!” Yet a small part of me will still have one foot securely planted in that sacred spot I call home, to return to when I need a safe haven and a place to hang my hat.