I miss. I miss so many things. It wasn’t always like this. I used to pack and travel and move around without missing. As a latchkey kid traveling between divorced parents, I wasn’t raised to miss. But after this past year, I realized that missing is less about not seeing or not doing than it is about newly experienced limitation. We miss people and places not because they aren’t nearby, but because we once had access to them—and we don’t anymore. Missing isn’t just absence. It’s absence plus longing. For all of us, this has been a year of missing.
Now, we stand at the threshold of a new possibility. Spring has sprung. The days are longer, #vaccinationpics are blowing up on social, and there’s something in the air that feels both odd and familiar: the promise of normal life. The promise of baseball games and concerts and school and indoor hangs. The promise of less missing. Might there be a teeny tiny bit of light at the end of the long quarintunnel?
It seems so. And yet, there’s something else there, too. A subtle queasy feeling. A tentativeness in the wake of the cautious optimism. Partially, we’re worried that the whole ship will run aground if a new virus variant is found, and that we’ll need to shut down again just as soon as we open up. That’s a fair enough fear, but it’s not the whole of it. There’s another piece that we may not want to admit: Though devastated by a year of being globally grounded, we’re kind of nervous for the grand reopening.
Almost exactly a year ago, we were all asked to make a major course correction, a messy three-point turn, a radical and unexpected pivot in our work and personal lives. We were asked to stop doing what we were doing and start doing something else. Immediately.
That looked different for each of us. It might have meant pivoting the way you made your income by leaving or changing jobs, altering the structure of your small business, adding PPE to your work uniform, or wrestling with the unemployment system. Perhaps the world suddenly asked you to stop visiting your elderly parents at their nursing home, or to homeschool your children in between client meetings, or to move in with a romantic partner (or with your parents) to save money and pod up. Pivoting may have also meant being forced into spending more hours with yourself than you’d ever dreamed possible. The point is, whatever we pivoted to—even when it was unemployment, isolation, or depression—we adapted to it. We had to. Now, in some way, we are going to have to pivot again.
Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, is believed to have said, “The only thing constant is change.” Even if this is true, it’s still not easy to change constantly. It’s crazymaking to keep rejiggering our lives from Zoom world to IRL back to Zoom world again. And we’ve been in such a fog that we’ve forgotten how to make plans for the future.
Friends tell me they feel anxious in small groups of people when they never did before. Some of us have learned to grow online businesses and forgotten how to grow the in-person ones. Teachers, especially new ones, don’t know how to connect with students in person because they are so used to teaching to a screen. It can be hard to watch a movie or TV show, in which large groups of people are in an enclosed space, without screaming at the screen: Why aren’t they wearing a mask?! My cat’s going to need a helpline if and when I ever start working from outside the house again. Yours might, too.
And while it’s exciting to think about having friends and lovers over to our homes, will we remember how to socialize? Will we be decent human beings, or remain focused on our own personal brand of neuroses with which we’ve been in monogamous relationship for the last year? Will a spike in car accidents and STD rates replace the Covid concern because people will have turned into reckless drivers and incorrigible horndogs?
Also, everyone’s normal wasn’t so great to begin with. Many of our lives were filled with a whole host of dissatisfactory circumstances that we were able to partially ignore, or at least table, during the pandemic, and will now have to face. Perhaps it was easier to endure ignorant co-worker comments in a video conference, when you could turn your camera off mid-meeting and plead a poor connection. Maybe you preferred commuting to your living room daily rather than taking an hour-long bus or train ride. And while no one enjoyed being stuck at home on a Friday night for the last 52 weeks, at least we knew everyone was stuck at home. What if you still have nothing to do on the weekend, even when we are set free from Covid jail?
And there’s also the fact that a lot of us are simply tired. Even traumatized. We’ve seen a lot of loss. Some of it frustrating, some of it quite tragic. So, a big hell yes to the future dream of going out to museums and live theater, and scoring hot make-out sessions with a stranger who needn’t procure negative results of a recent invasive nasal swab. It all sounds unfathomably delightful. But also, wouldn’t it kind of be easier to stay home again in your jammies and eat a bowl of mac and cheese in bed while burning through the last season of Schitt’s Creek?
I’m not trying to put a damper on our freedom party. I want doctors and nurses to get their lives back, not to mention performing artists and massage therapists and all the rest. But we need to have appropriate expectations for adjusting to yet another new normal. We’ve been living inside a giant shaken snow globe, and we’re all landing somewhere different than where we were when the shaking began. The vaccine is great. It’s the best news since the TP shelves were restocked. If all goes as planned, the vaccine will prevent us from getting and spreading the virus. But it won’t fix our frazzled spirits and addled minds. For that, we’ll need a little patience and a whole lot of perspective.
So let’s do raise a glass to being back in the world of less missing. It can’t come soon enough. And let’s save another glass for coping with change. Because just as the dust settles on our last journey through the matrix, we’re about to step through the portal again. Maybe this time, if we take a longer view, we can pack better for the journey.