It’s just as T. S. Eliot says in his 1925 poem, The Hollow Men, “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”
And so it is with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The newest variant—BA.2—seems to be more transmissible than previous ones, and even less virulent. It comes just as I’m more confident in the efficacy of the vaccine that protects me, and thoroughly exhausted by prevention protocols.
I’ve taken off my mask.
Oh—I still have them littering my life: crumpled in pockets, buried in my purse, stuck in the car’s upholstery. I can always find one to slap over my face if requested. Glad to. But I’m also thinking about how to reclaim some of the joy in life, most notably by embracing social proximity instead of social distance. Even I, an inveterate loner, am tired of being isolated.
Relaxing my vigilance isn’t entirely irrational. My age is my only increased risk factor for severe Covid. I participate in other activities that are far riskier, like backpacking over slick-rock into Death Hollow, a slot canyon in Utah, and driving. So, at the pace of a typical Vermont spring, I’m emerging from the pandemic—slowly.
When the pandemic slammed down in March 2020, I followed orders to stay home to stay safe, and I canceled a trip to visit family in California and backpack in the high dessert. This year, I went, as if picking up where I left off two years ago. I wore a mask on the cross-country flight. It wasn’t comfortable, but neither is a middle seat. I wore a mask wherever one was required: in a Lyft, a shuttle and a museum. But I didn’t wear one indoors in a restaurant in Utah.
It was a risk I was willing to take.
It felt scary.
It felt liberating.
Back in Vermont, the seniors in the community yoga class I teach are unanimous that we practice masked. I’m as glad to comply with their request to wear a mask as I am to practice at my local yoga studio without one. My Shakespeare group has resumed reading, drinking and arguing together indoors, without masks. What I like best about being mask-less is seeing people’s faces again, their smiles as jubilant as a field of daffodils bobbing in a spring breeze.
Physical Distance, Social Proximity
I’m also glad to lean in from what’s been misnamed “social distance.” It’s physical distance we observed standing in checkout lines and teaching on Zoom, but social distance we endure by not meeting in-person with students and friends. This Friday, the writing workshop I lead will resume meeting in person, and on Saturday night, we’re welcoming new neighbors into our home. It will be just one couple for an intimate dinner, not a dinner party. Gradually, I hope to scale up from cooking for two to feeding friends around the extended table, which sits ten comfortably and twelve in a squish.
The first wave of the pandemic was a devastating tsunami. Its tide is going out. The pandemic ends not with bang, but with a whimper. It’s low tide. Let’s frolic at the shore while we can.