Navigating the familiar (yet not the same) waters with caution. Photo courtesy of Margit Bantowsky on Unsplash.

By MARILYN SHAPIRO
Since my husband Larry and I have had our second COVID 19 shots, our pre-pandemic life and its commitments are slowly resuming. We have waded out into the unknown, first a toe into the water with outdoor concerts and patio-only dining, then walking up to our knees with visits and in-home dinners with vaccinated friends, then plunging in with indoor restaurant dining and non-virtual club meetings. Recently, I was in a restaurant with four friends when I realized I had walked in, sat down, ordered, and hadn’t thought of COVID or even masks for a full half hour. That, I say, is progress.

What’s The Problem?
Then why am I feeling shaky? Uncertain? Unmoored?

Since March 2020, when the world shut down, my husband and I filled the empty hours that stretched in front of us with small gems. I finally put together Fradel’s Story, a collection of articles written by my mother and about my family. We took long walks and longer bike rides through unexplored areas of our community. We spent hours and hours on our lanai, reading, doing puzzles, eating leisurely dinners, and watching the wildlife in our pond. Each Friday, we celebrated Shabbat with candles and wine and homemade challah. We spent hours and hours on video conferencing sessions with family, friends, our congregation, and our clubs.

Now our calendars is filling up and overflowing. We have not yet given up many of the activities that kept us going for 16 months of isolation, but we are also adding more and more semblances of our previous life.

And whenever I try to juggle too much I begin dropping balls. I missed a planned luncheon, showed up an hour late for a book club, and forgot to call my brother and sister-in-law to wish them “Mazel tov” on their 50th anniversary. For goodness sakes, I even failed to send in an article to The Jewish World for its last issue, something I had not done for years. Had I learned nothing from the pandemic?

Going Home Again?
Jodi Rudoren captured many of my feelings in a March 5, 2021, editorial in the Forward. There she admitted that she didn’t want to go back to the old “normal.” “This terrible, horrible very bad year of isolation has also had an abundance of silver linings,” she wrote, “and I worry well snap back to our old ways without truly learning the lessons this crisis has brought.”

So now, like Ms. Rudoren and many others, I am finding my own “better normal.” I don’t want to give up some of the things I savored: the more leisurely life, our long dinners on the lanai with cold beer or coconut rum and (diet) cokes or wine; the challah baking, the puzzles. On the other hand, I look forward to meeting friends for dinner and plays and indoor get-togethers, resuming exercise classes, and, most of all, traveling to see my family.

Seeking A New Normal
I am not alone in my feelings about this, as I found out on a Zoom with my SOL Writers group. Ginny said that she feels as if she was emerging from a long illness, where stepping back into the world in her weakened state is difficult. “I feel untethered,” she said. “It is as if I am floating around finding my center.” Gail shared that she felt as if she were in a “waiting room,” in between her old life and her “new normal.”

Along with the difficulty of finding one’s balance, there is still the specter of COVID-19 hanging over all of us. Although all of the SOL Writers have had both vaccines, each found that she still was a “little too vigilant,” “a little too cautious,” and most importantly, “a little distrustful.” When “accosted” by a fellow shopper who demanded to know why she was still wearing a mask, Ginny avoided confrontation by calmly saying, “You care as much about what I think as I care about what you think.” After ‘losing’ what she feels has been a year of her life, Mary Ann said she no longer has the energy or patience to squander what remains of her time for “idiots” who still think that the virus was a hoax. “These people are energy vampires,’” commented Aya.

Our Next Step
The reality of resurgence has been felt by friends in England, who now are concerned by a virus variant from India that is more contagious. “Portugal opened up, and many people flew there for a vacation,” they told us. Then there was a spike in cases.” Portugal’s COVID rates increased enough for England to revoke their green status, resulting in vacationers scrambling to return home before they faced a 14-day quarantine. Our friends are not optimistic about traveling for a long while.

In the States, there is more confidence, and Larry and I are ready for our next big step. We will soon be flying to see our son and daughter-in-law and meet our grandson, who was born one day before San Francisco closed down. Then we head to Colorado, to spend time our daughter, son-in-law, and beautiful granddaughter. Extra masks and hand sanitizer are already packed, along with gifts, warm layers for San Francisco “summers” and hiking clothes and boots for Rocky Mountain trails.

We know that COVID and its aftermath will impact our visit. Outdoor concerts, farmers markets, and indoor plays and dinners are still “To Be Determined.”

No matter, Larry and I will just be happy to finally be with our family and return to at least that piece of normalcy. We will take long walks along the ocean in San Francisco and long hikes in the woods in Colorado. Each Friday, we will sit down with them for Shabbat dinners with wine, candles, and freshly baked challah. Larry will find quiet moments to do puzzles and read. I will put the final touches on Fradel’s Story [to be completed in time for what would have been my mother’s 104th birthday on Sept. 1] and continue writing stories about living through the pandemic. A

I will savor all that I learned as I move forward into our “new normal.”

Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. A second compilation of her articles printed in The Jewish World has been published. Tikkun Olam now joins There Goes My Heart. Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.

Sources:

Demony, Catarina. “Portugal halts easing of COVID-19 rules in Lisbon as cases rise.” Yahoo News June 9, 2021.

Rudoren, Jodi. “Confessions of a Lockdown Addict.” Forward. March 5, 2021.

Rudoren, Jodi. “Small Talk and Other Skills I’m struggling to re-learn as we build a better normal.”  Forward. June 11, 2021