Fifty-three weeks ago today, I got off of an airplane in Hartford, Connecticut, and headed home to face the pandemic. Since that time, I’ve been in my office with other people once. I’ve been physically within six or so feet of non-family members not at all. I’ve eaten two meals outside with two of my three children twice. On one occasion my wife and I shared a meal with friends, sitting in their driveway, far apart and wary. I’ve not been to court and I’ve not had a visitor in my home.
I still have the same cash that was in my pocket the day I landed in Hartford on March 13, 2020; I've not used cash in all that time.
It’s been a year or living cautiously.
And the funny thing is, it seems to have changed me.
A year ago, I was on an airplane a couple of times a month. I spent a week or so each month in hotels, and, when I was home, I was running around Connecticut courts. I am not outgoing and gregarious by nature, but I got around. I thought nothing of it.
And I worked long hours. I always have.
An existential reset button was triggered during the pandemic lockdown. And I sort of like it.
Both my wife and I have now been vaccinated twice. It’s been more than two weeks since the second vaccination. The world beckons suddenly. I’ve been ordered to appear in court soon, and I will soon resume running here and there meeting with folks in trouble and in need.
It seems odd, suddenly, to consider a world populated by people I will actually have to meet by some means other than the telephone, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. I’m actually nervous about getting out and about. I read the news looking for signs of danger.
As a second pandemic spring blossoms, I recall how betrayed I felt last year. Nature was no longer welcoming, the cosmos had grown surly, simple pleasures were no longer so simple. I locked down in our home, walking the dog for endless hours along roads and paths unpopulated by others. Everything we needed from the external world – chiefly books and food – were delivered to our home and left outside.
I’ve lost the habit of civility.
So what happens now?
I wear a mask. I keep my distance. I wash my hands. I struggle not to touch my face. And then what? Is this the new normal, a residue of fear and wariness hanging over every interaction? I used to gauge a person by how they shook hands, how they smiled, or not, when greeted. Now I’m wary of even bumping elbows with the masked men and women I will greet.
The world beckons. Business summons. A world of controversy awaits me.
And I am suddenly become a coward, afraid of my next breath.
I used to tell clients preparing for a prison sentence that anyone can do a year behind bars. That’s because throughout the year, you know you’ll be home next year at whatever time it is that you pause to count your woes. It’s the second year that changes you, I used to say. You begin to lose your place in the world. Come the third year, the time begins to do you, I'd say. You’re changed in fundamental ways. I made all that up, never having lived in lockdown.
Was that assessment too optimisitic?
A single year has changed me. Of course, my sentence was indeterminant. A year ago, I sat home reading about plagues wondering whether I’d outlive the virus. I heard tales of friends who got sick, horribly sick; some died. It seemed as though it would never end.
And now, just maybe, a chapter is closing. A new normal dawns.
I’m not ready, I found myself thinking when learning that I must appear in federal court soon for a three-day hearing. Then I realized I’ve said that about everything in my life. About the time I settle into one role, one set of habits, something new requires change. I’m conservative at heart, I suppose. I take risks because I must; the best defense is a strong offense.
So what have I learned in the past year of living cautiously? Not as much as I would have liked. Tasks and projects remain incomplete. Relationships are strained. And I have misgivings about the new normal. Beneath all my bluster a coward cowers.
The pandemic came on with bang, and ends with a whimper. My whimper.