A Special Mask
Before we can fully move forward into a life outside of our pandemic-related boundaries, I feel like it's going to be important for us to take stock in the people who have helped us get through the past year. In my personal experience, as my world grew smaller, I found myself getting closer to a handful of friends. I have one friend in particular who is someone I have been close to since we were 16 years old. Scott has fought anxiety issues for decades, so this past year was particularly difficult for him. We talked and saw each other more frequently than we had in a long time (either by phone or in a socially distanced setting). Even though there were times when he needed my support more than I needed his, I became extremely grateful to share some of the isolating quiet with him on a consistent basis.
After Scott received his first vaccine, he offered me something that I found to be extremely heartfelt. As I was preparing to travel to Florida to see my parents, he made a special trip to deliver one of his highly effective masks for me to wear on the plane. His investment in my safety spoke volumes and opened my eyes to a level of thoughtfulness that would be difficult to imagine before the pandemic.
The trip south went flawlessly. I felt safe staying with my vaccinated parents and was able to schedule my own vaccine upon returning to New Jersey. It all seemed like a win-win until I returned home and took a COVID test the day before my vaccine. The results were positive, but days later I would learn that I had received a false positive. Scott kept me distracted from the stress of moving out of my house and worrying that things could get even worse if I started to show any symptoms. Thankfully, I got a negative rapid test the following day and a negative PCR result a few days after that. Scott was right there with me, just as we had been for each other through a year of lockdown.
The struggle that brought some of us closer could just as easily rip us apart now if we are suddenly on a different page from the friends and family we took this journey with.
Two months later I am fully vaccinated and most parts of our country appear to be reopening. While I am thrilled, it is highly noticeable that everyone is having a different reaction to emerging from what life became over the past year. Some are taking it slow, others are diving headfirst, and many are struggling with intense anxiety and fear. The struggle that brought some of us closer could just as easily rip us apart now if we are suddenly on a different page from the friends and family we took this journey with. Just like the squares on a Zoom call, not everyone is ready to put their cameras on and fully engage on the next task at hand.
As we embark on a readjustment phase, I sincerely hope that empathy and kindness can lead the way forward. There are those who will remain unvaccinated, those who can’t handle the sudden social stimulation, and those who are just afraid that they will still get sick and die. The one thing we all have in common is that we got through the last year, but each story will remain an individual one. I still see friends suffering in different ways, and I am committed to trying to help them with whatever they need without inflicting judgment on how they find their way to feeling more comfortable in a less restricted environment.
Scott came to my house for the first time a few weeks ago and we ate dinner inside with the sliding glass door open behind us. Before he left, he gave me a new mask to travel with as I was about to get on a plane to bring my son home from college. Anxiety is still very much on his radar, but the fact that he continues to put my safety at the top of his priority list touches me in ways I have no words for. This kind of loyalty and true friendship is a gift that I treasure even more now. I can only hope that the difficulties of dealing with the past year have brought others to moments of meaningful perspective. We need to be good to each other and to acknowledge that the challenges of life in a pandemic somehow fostered many unforeseen ways to bring out the best in people.