A couple of weeks ago my husband and I ate at a restaurant … indoors.
At any other time in the last 100 years or so, that would be easily the most yawn-inspiring sentence ever. But during the era of COVID-19, the statement and the deed itself are both kind of a big deal. At least they are for me.
I am one of those people who has followed the pandemic guidelines pretty religiously, so, as someone in the age demographic that was initially most vulnerable to contracting and dying from the disease, venturing forth to dine out in a restaurant was a leap of faith – even though my husband and I are fully vaccinated.
It took some engineering to make this recent meal happen.
Bruce and I are usually in Coeur d’Alene once a month or so. When time permits, there’s a casual seafood restaurant we like to go to. We stopped by a week before we actually ate there last month, but it was the traditional lunch time, and the place was packed. All tables full and a line out the door.
And, of course, not a face mask in sight. This was North Idaho, after all. Seemed like a potential superspreader event to us, so, no thank you. But on a rainy Saturday at the end of April, we timed it so we arrived at 3 p.m. – after the lunch crowd and before the dinner crush – and found only a few souls inside. So, in we went.
Still no masks to be seen on any faces but ours. With masks on, we ordered our food, took it to the farthest corner of the restaurant, masked up again for some post-dining conversation at the table and then headed home. The food was as delicious as it was when we ate there more than a year ago. It was so nice to be at a restaurant once more, to do a normal social thing again.
But still …
We were hesitant and a little uncomfortable doing it. I know this is unkind of me, but I do find myself being exceedingly judgmental. When I see someone wearing a mask, I think “there goes a good citizen,” but when I don’t, I think “spreader.” I am acutely aware of the specter of COVID-19 still hanging over us all, even though there’s been so much progress along the road to regaining a COVID-free life. But we’re not there yet. Ground gained can be ground lost again.
So, weird old lady. Fuddy duddy. Holier than thou. Nervous Nellie. Yes, all of that. Even so, I’m not alone. I’m finding more stories emerging now in national media revealing that I am among a large sister/brotherhood that is finding difficulty at making even a slow and sensible transition from bunkering up to rejoining society.
We have sworn off our norms. How do we feel safe(ish) embracing them again?
In one article I read, a psychologist was quoted as saying that this anxiety can’t just be turned off. “It’s got to power down,” he said, adding that as some of the new habits we’ve had to embrace are slowly being eased up on (vaccinated people can be maskless in most outdoor circumstances now), “recalibrating around that is tough.”
This is exacerbated by a lot of the ambiguity that’s out there. Vaccinations are up, a good thing (though vaccination enthusiasm is declining). But areas of the country – and the world – are seeing spiking infection and death rates.
Post-vaccination protocols are evolving as scientists and researchers learn more about this plague, and, as a result of that knowledge, loosen, tighten or shift the strategies in the playbook. I want to be informed and to adjust where needed, but there is an information overload effect happening, too.
Yes, I long to visit and wrap arms around my son in Seattle. Greet friends with a hug. Don’t we all want to grab up grandchildren in both arms … or siblings, parents, grandparents? But everything we long for still seems potentially risky. And it isn’t even that I worry about getting sick from the virus. The worry is that, even as a vaccinated person, I might have it within me and could pass it – along with my hug – to someone who won’t fare as well.
It seems easier to stay home with the covers metaphorically pulled up over my head, at least until it all gets worked out. We can’t control much else, but we can usually control the environment in our own homes, so there’s some appeal and comfort in staying where it’s safe. Safer, but not necessarily feasible or even smarter.
Perhaps I’ll be more relaxed and confident at my next dining-in occasion. But this week I’m having lunch with a vaccinated friend, and we’ve picked a nice, warm and sunny day and are eating sandwiches out in her backyard.
Stefanie Pettit can be reached at email@example.com