Everyone’s COVID-19 anniversary, the day you knew life was going to change dramatically, is different. For me, it started in early March. I emerged from days off the grid, hiking in the woods of New Zealand, and I checked in to read the news, only to find the world was a LOT more concerned about this mystery virus than I’d anticipated. Upon my return to the U.S., I landed in O’Hare to the spectacle of people in full hazmat suits boarding flights and others wearing swimming goggles and scarves over their mouths.
I knew then that this crisis was bound to be a little different. I did not, however, expect to spend a year with 70% less human contact than I would otherwise normally have.
For a while, it felt like the whole mess would never end and we’d be stuck eternally in a fearful limbo. Now, I’ve got relatives and friends getting vaccinated, and infection rates are crashing down. The end is in sight. I should be excited, and I am to a degree, but I’m also concerned about what happens on the other side.
Collectively, we’re going to come out of this shared traumatic experience. We all miss “normal” life, but whatever we return to won’t be the same as before the crisis. I worry about the muscles that have atrophied in our absence from “normal” life—less the physical muscles (though I’m sure some of you are feeling that acutely) and more the social muscles.
We’ve had an impressive number of opportunities for division and tribal sorting in 2020, some related to the pandemic and some not. And worse than that, we had (and still have) physical separation from each other and far, far fewer of the daily civilized interactions between strangers that are the glue that keep society together. The weirdness of getting back out into the world and relearning basic social skills could encourage us to go back into our shells, where we’re comfortable, and avoid people outside of our tribe even more than we had in 2019. And that could have even greater consequences for our society overall.
I think we need a little stimulus, but not the kind you get through legislation. Maybe we can all dig deep into our social energy bank and spend liberally, to give our interactions with others the booster shot those relationships need to get over the social consequences of the pandemic.
I’m already an introvert, so it’s going to be awkward, but most things worth having require a little discomfort before the payoff.
Photo by vegefox.com on Adobe Stock