Now that more of us are seeing actual people — up close and in person, fully vaccinated and mask-free — I wondered if I’d gotten nicer during the pandemic.
Less judgmental and more patient, perhaps. More kumbaya and less get-out-of-my-lane, maybe.
It was easy to be a member of team Better Together! when we didn’t have to actually be together.
I had a cushy pandemic.
If the pandemic were a cruise ship, I sailed first-class. I worked from home. Shopped online. Kept my job. Collected my stimulus checks. Saw people in my bubble. I exercised more. Bought new sheets. Avoided Zoom.
I grew accustomed to working in pajamas, brushing my teeth at noon, collapsing into child’s pose on my yoga mat whenever I damn well felt like it.
I also did not have any actual children underfoot, needy creatures whom I was expected to feed, clothe, entertain and teach while attempting to make a living and stay sane. I only had the dog, who wished I would go somewhere and leave him in peace.
I didn’t have to pivot professionally while worried sick my restaurant, bookstore, fill-in-the-blank business would go under.
I did not have to head into a virus hot zone — a hospital, a nursing home — and spend eight hours a day gowned and masked caring for the sick and dying, or trying to keep people from getting sick and dying.
I didn’t have to wave to my loved ones from a window, stuck on the other side.
No one in my family died from COVID-19. No one in my family had to die alone in a hospital or have their funeral delayed or reduced to 20 people in scattered pews.
I felt the weight of that collective grief, the millions of walking wounded, but it wasn’t my personal grief.
Even so, after 15 months of cocooning, I’m pretty sure I’ve changed. And not into a butterfly. On Thursday, when the CDC announced fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks indoors with other fully vaccinated people, a vision of the mask-burning children in Utah flashed before my eyes, like a scene from a Shirley Jackson short story.
I’m keeping my masks handy, thank you, and I’ll wear one whenever I please. Like flu season. Or if I spot those children’s parents in a crowded elevator.
See, I’m probably not nicer.
I’m on edge. Bothered by the Great Divides between us. The opinions — and facts — that can’t be reconciled. Our inabilities — including my own — to listen to other people and try to understand them.
I worry about what the lessons of the pandemic will be. How it will be written into history books. A divided time in an already divided country.
Moments in the pandemic stand out. The Lincoln pulmonologist on the news, pleading for people to mask up and stay home, tearing up when he talked about his own family’s self-imposed isolation and asking us to do the same.
Some of us shrugged.
I wonder if the small kindnesses we have cultivated during these long months will be sustained. Overtipping for takeout or at the drive-through window. Flowers for COVID nurses. Letting the car in front of us merge when a lane closes. (Oh, wait.)
It feels good to start to step out and test the new world.
All year, I’ve wondered how we would emerge. Like the winning team on a buzzer-beater? Or like squinting coal miners freed from a cave-in, blinded by the sun?
Would the pandemic feel like a dream, the way vacations do after a few days back home? The muscle memory of routine reeling us back to reality?
I would like to think that we are — way down deep — better together.
I know I’ve changed.
I’ve come to terms with a wardrobe of sweatpants by referring to them as joggers. I’ve embraced my inner introvert. Abandoned my mascara — and my contact lenses — and any pretense that you could call my hair any other color than gray. (OK, silver if you insist.)
I’ve gotten to know my neighbors during those long months at home.
I’ve gotten to know myself, too. My introverted, happy-to-be-home self.
I can’t say I’m nicer, but then again I’m still getting my sea legs under me and getting used to all those mouths and noses, so it’s probably too soon to know for certain.
Five Cindy Lange-Kubick columns from an upside-down year
This story is about nostalgia — so many of us, packed so close together in the pursuit of good soup and scones. It gives me hope that those days will return.
Sometimes it’s the little things that put a lump in your throat, like not knowing that the last time you took your sweet grandson to the germ-infested arcade parlor he loved would be the last time.
So much pain during the pandemic, but none worse than the grief of families and health care workers as so many die alone in the hospital.
Who doesn’t love an ugly baby story?
A story about hope and goodness and friendship at a time when people needed to hear about the angels of this world.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @TheRealCLK