The schools were closing. Planes were being grounded. Stores were mobbed by desperate shoppers. I very vividly remember sitting on the couch with my family in early March, when it all had just begun, asking my parents, “Hey, did anything like this happen when you were a kid?”
No. No, it hadn’t.
The pandemic was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To see the world shut down, and then stay shut down for such a long period of time, was like nothing any of us had experienced before. A few months into the pandemic, I was able to return to work, but my plan to go to college the upcoming year was seeming to make less and less sense. I ultimately decided to take a gap year; I surely wasn’t alone in that.
In fact, so many kids were taking years off and delaying enrollment that they coined a new term, calling it a “COVID year.”
Boy, I’m glad I did.
All of my high school friends who went off to college complained about the situation. Couldn’t eat inside, classes were all online, couldn’t leave the house… typical COVID stuff. I felt the same way about most of it.
Even at work, there were still the clinical routines that dictated our days, especially during the first few months when most people were still very worried about it. You had to be masked up, six feet, hand sanitizer at every turn. Even as fear of the virus faded, the masks never left. Days became very clinical. Everyone simply came into the store, quickly grabbed what they needed, and left just as fast.
I completely understood though. Going into stores felt like such a chore. Walking through the faceless mob felt so impersonal, detached in a sense. The holidays were simply the worst. Throngs of people hurriedly rushed into the store to finish off their lists, and they all simply had no time for waiting. All the faces of the assemblage blended together; just one after another, after another, after another… a series of obscured strangers.
It’s not something I ever thought mattered to me. Seeing others, that is.
You never realize how integral something is to your life until you go without it for such a long time. When something has always been a part of your life, you don’t even remember what it was like without it.
You don’t feel the relief of breathing freely until after you have had a cold. Don’t enjoy sleeping in your own bed until you’ve been away so long. Don’t enjoy the lukewarm Vermont springs until the end of our frigid and miserable winters.
Sometimes we take for granted all of the little things that make life enjoyable. The daily redundancies that once seemed trivial were truly the glue that held life together.
More than a full year after the pandemic had started, we were told we were finally allowed to take the masks off. The next day of work, it was like a wave of relief had washed over me. Getting to see everyone’s faces again was great in a way that I never thought it would have been. Simply smiling at the customer somehow felt like something that had been an impossibility just days before. These faceless strangers suddenly became real people. Real people with dreams, feelings, and hopes. Everyone felt so much kinder once the masks came off. More compassionate, more feeling … more human.
After it has gone away for a while, normal feels pretty damn good.
– Brady Hathorn