By JOHN GRAU
Funny what social distancing does for the view.
After 18 months of pandemic emergency — with its shutdowns, quarantines, masks, hand sanitizers, panic buying, online shopping, online appointments, online gatherings, as well as no dining out, no going to the movies, no attending church, no concerts, no theater and no unnecessary travel — the landscape is awash with people headlong “getting back to normal.”
I’m in no hurry.
Confinement has allowed time for some unexpectedly pleasant discoveries. How comfortable my couch really is, for instance. From that perch — often while luxuriating in seasonal bathrobe attire — discovering the smorgasbord of streaming entertainment on TV with the likes of HBO Max, Disney Plus and Netflix.
Between episodes of “The Nevers,” “The Mandalorian” and “Stranger Things,” and all things Marvel, however, something else unexpectedly crept into my Fortress of Solitude.
I certainly wasn’t looking to carve out time to contemplate, evaluate or otherwise meditate on life. Especially so, given the grim daily witness of the pandemic’s outrageous — and, in my opinion, needless — toll.
It kind of snuck in.
Last winter, I came across an advertisement on social media raising money for animal rescue programs. As incentives to contribute, the ad offered posters, stickers and apparel with various pet-oriented slogans. One that immediately stood out was a denim ball cap that said, “I like dogs … and maybe 3 people.” My style of humor, for sure, and I thought about ordering the hat for when I would be back on the street again.
Not long after, federal aid started flowing to small businesses; great news for the many struggling restaurants in the coastal tourist area where I live. At the mention of once again being able to dine out, however, my instant thought was, “Do I really want to go to all that trouble?”
With the arrival of spring, I began joking with family members that I had begun mentally reviewing the long list of pre-pandemic friends, acquaintances, associates, and organizations I had been connected with and thinking about who and what I really want to be around again. Soon, it began to sink in how many social obligations I had previously tied myself to that no longer made much sense. From there, it was just a short couple of steps to asking myself why some of these obligations even had made sense in the first place.
It is amazing how many obligations cease to be obligations once those obligations cease. Or something like that.
All the while, I had been gravitating toward a couple of pursuits that have had central meaning in my life but over the years had little-by-little been buried under the messy tangle of work, family, health and, of course, social obligations.
Unable to indulge my penchant for overbooking my calendar, I could no longer ignore the plain fact that I had the opportunity to sit down and write the sort of things I had spent decades complaining that there was no time. Even more compelling was a reawakening to the sheer joy of playing music, a passion that sustained me through a very difficult adolescence and later took me to the threshold of a career.
For my wife and I, who have compromised immune systems, the latest coronavirus variants spreading their shadows across the country signals that our “new normal” will be one less of expectation than of caution and continuing risk assessment. Quite naturally, trust — already bruised and bloodied before the lockdowns — is now on life support.
Even as the pandemic emergency eventually fades, I intend to maintain the pandemic shopping strategies in which I developed a number of “sweet spot” times at grocery, hardware and big box stores when there are minimal numbers of shoppers. Observing the almost heedless return to old shopping habits — clueless old men clogging aisles, putzing shoppers funneled into impulse-item bottlenecks, people reaching in front of you to grab a sale item — have once again left me wondering why I ever put up with this in the first place.
Additionally, there are resources that arose in this life in time of plague that I hope can continue. Foremost, Zoom and its related technologies have been a revelatory convenience. Online medical appointments have reduced the time spent at routine doctor’s checkups by hours. Practice with these technologies also has ushered in a time of warm and overdue reunions with friends around the world.
At this point, of course, what will turn out to be truly normal in the coming new normal is probably anybody’s guess. It’s my bet that this new normal ain’t gonna be normal at all for some time.
And that’s okay with me. Just as long as there are some dogs around.
John Grau is a retired journalist living in Delaware. He is currently dogless, and lately wondering why.