For all the years I was in school, I told myself the same story every semester. It’s called the “It’s going to feel so awesome when exams are done” story. Every fall and spring as the end of term loomed, I would declare: “When I write that last exam, it’s going to be amazing!!” I would picture a jubilant dance out of the exam hall, a visceral sense of a weight lifted off my shoulders, an ability to effortlessly enjoy things I had not had time to do as I prepared for the end of a term.
And then, every semester, I would take that last test and not feel so incredible after all. I would feel tired, numb, and a little out of sorts. It almost always took a few days for post-study happiness to settle in – and I was always surprised by that.
I share this because this summer I have often felt the same “post-exam-let-down” feeling as we have entered Stage Three of reopening in Ontario. During the last sixteen months, I could hardly wait for this time to come. I said things like: “When I see people again, I’ll probably cry, I’ll be so happy!” and “I’m going to throw SO many parties!” and “I’ll never turn down a chance to see people again after this!”
But it hasn’t totally been like that…
Sometimes seeing people again felt awkward after so long apart. Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by even the thought of doing activities that had stopped being part of my life sixteen months ago. Sometimes reopening felt complicated as I joined others in negotiating how to hang out safely with differing vaccine statuses and the lingering threat of the Delta variant. I haven’t cried when I’ve seen people. I haven’t thrown a party. I have turned down social invitations! And I have wondered: “What’s going ON?…Did covid BREAK me forever?”
You feel me?
If so, I would like to share with you what I have reminded myself, often, in this odd reopening season: There are very good reasons that reopening is complicated. Here are a few:
1. Reopening Reminds Us What We Lost
For the last year and half, we’ve been disconnected to many of the people in our lives. While seeing people comes with joy, it can also remind us of all the things we missed. We see children who have grown up a lot in a year and a half and regret the times we missed with them. We feel the 1of relationships that may have shifted when we weren’t seeing each other. We may even feel the absence of people that have died since we were last together. Reopening highlights things that have changed, and that can be hard.
One simple thing triggered this for me recently. I got a message from our church’s youth pastor about my daughter starting youth group this fall. It was a bit of a shock. When churches shut down in 2020 my daughter was still going to Sunday School. I’m excited that my child can start youth group, but that message also reminded me that her Sunday School days are over. With that realization came some sadness.
The reality is that there is a grief that comes in this time. We may have lost a lot in the last sixteen months, and as wonderful as reopening and reconnecting can be, it can also hold a mirror up to our losses in a way that can be painful. Grief doesn’t end with the simple turning of a calendar. It lingers in lots of ways, and a declaration of a new stage doesn’t change that. We are all still grieving from all we’ve lost in the last number of months. Reopening doesn’t instantly take the grief away.
2. We’re Still Recovering
We cannot underplay the significance of how difficult, and even traumatic, this season has been. We lived through what may be the greatest upheaval of many of our lives. We lived through constant uncertainty, perpetually changing guidelines, and the lingering fear of death and sickness. We’ve been sideswiped, gobsmacked, walloped.
Some people will be years recovering. If you’re a healthcare or a frontline worker, for example, you have been through a level of unprecedented crisis. It’s not easy to just jump back to a new normal when you’re recovering from so much chaos. (And, when you know it is not yet over with a fourth wave looming…). You may even feel frustrated when you see people and it feels like their covid-struggles were so much less than yours. All of this makes sense.
To add to that, we are trying to recover while covid is still going on! We didn’t have a simple “covid is now done” moment, and lingering restrictions mean seeing people is far from straightforward. While you may have looked forward to a cheerful family reunion, you didn’t anticipate that your Aunt would refuse to come if people were going to wear masks. Or you may feel upset that people you care about aren’t getting vaccinated when you wish they would. Or you may feel like you need to take more precautions than people think you should and that feels awkward too. Our recovery is hindered by all the complicated things that are still going on.
3. Our “Social Stomach” Has Shrunk
I’m using an analogy here. If you’ve ever been sick or lost weight for another reason, you may discover that after a season of eating less, you simply can’t eat big meals anymore. Why? Your stomach has shrunk.
Over the last year we have experienced a form of social starvation. Whether or not you hated, tolerated or even enjoyed seeing less people, your social capacity may have changed. You are simply not used to seeing many people anymore. I know a lot of introverts are finding this reopen a shock to the system, but the extroverts are feeling it, too! We love seeing people, but we are also not used to it. It may take a little while to work up to enjoying the things we used to enjoy in the ways we used to do so. You may find the idea of returning to a large church gathering overwhelming. You may be nervous about returning to work in your office. You may not be sure how to attend that backyard gathering when twenty people seems like a mob! All of this makes sense – your social “stomach” has changed over covid, and it may need some time to get used to big “meals” again.
So what do we do with all these surprising feelings?
We cut ourselves a little slack.
After my exams, it didn’t matter if I didn’t dance through the classroom, throw my text book in the air and start singing “Schools Out For Summer.” In the same way, it’s okay if you’re not ready to party just yet either. This season of reopening, like the sixteen months leading up to it, is “unprecedented.” Let’s give ourselves and those around us the grace to let reopening feel as complicated as it needs to.
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