I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this week. I was both excited and nervous, which is exactly how I feel about the concept of life going “back to normal.” For a year now, I’ve complained bitterly about pandemic-imposed isolation, boredom, separation, and loss. I’ve longed for the things I miss, like eating in restaurants, listening to live music, or going to a party. I’ve learned to tolerate–but have never gotten used to–the feeling of one day bleeding into the next. I’ve grown to love and hate my own company. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year, partly because my inner observer had nowhere else to put her attention.
So now that most of my friends are getting the vaccine and the weather is finally improving, I’m aware that my circles will soon open up again. I should be nothing but excited by the prospect, but I’m dragging my feet. I feel like a toddler sucking my thumb at the edge of the pool and trying to gather the courage to jump in. It’s not just that the virus is still out there, it’s not just that the mask mandates are still in place, it’s not just that the world is still a scary place where you can get gunned down in your local grocery store. It’s also that I’m not sure I want to go back to the person I was before.
That person had a hard time saying no, even when she felt too tired or grumpy to attend an event. She worked too much and oftentimes on projects that no longer held her interest. She was so convinced that boredom would kill her that she filled every waking moment. And before the pandemic slowed everything down, that person measured her self-worth by what she got done each day. That person was searching outside herself for fulfillment.
I was that person for so long, though, that once I wasn’t her anymore, I had no idea who I was. After a year, you’d think I would have figured it out. I’d like to say I took this time to reinvent and emerge a better person, but the truth is, in many ways, I’m more confused than ever.
A friend of mine told me an old story to make me feel better. She said, “It’s like you were in the ocean in a boat with plenty of supplies. You had planned out your course and were moving steadily along. Then one day a big wave wiped out your navigation system and you didn’t know where you were going. Then another big wave washed all your supplies overboard. Then another wave knocked the boat out from under you and you were alone in the water. In time, though, a porpoise came along and swam you to a new land.”
I sighed. I could tell you about when in the year 2020 it felt like my navigation system left me. And the day my supplies went overboard. I’m less clear on when the boat was knocked out from under me because it feels like for a long time I was clinging to that last piece of broken wood until it, too, floated away.
So now here I am, treading water in a wide ocean, and trusting that the porpoise will show up soon and that this new land will be the right place for me. It better be, because there’s no going back.
Teresa R. Funke
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