The landscape for this July is much improved from a year ago – and that’s an understatement. The outlook is light years away from those dark days of last summer, when we were told to essentially stay away from everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Not so this July! Fourth of July parades are back, concerts both large and small are returning, and road races, such as the Arnold Mills Road Race in Cumberland, are making a comeback.
That’s right: There will be honest-to-goodness races, as opposed to mind-numbing virtual races, which forced even longtime runners to push themselves into “race” mode without the adrenaline that’s a byproduct of running alongside competitors.
I ran what I vowed would be my last virtual race, a charity event in May, because I didn’t enjoy such events, which force you to run alone. That’s why I’m looking forward to the “in-person” races on July 5 at Arnold Mills and on Aug. 1 in downtown North Attleboro.
That’s good news, but just the fact that I’m referring to races as “in-person” shows the extent that the pandemic impacted our lives – besides, of course, the more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
All of which makes it likely that it will take a long time for us to return to our former lives.
Before the pandemic, races, concerts, film showings, lectures and worship services were all assumed to be “in-person.” A road race meant toeing the starting line, and fundraisers such as the Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk or the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bicycle ride to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund, meant joining thousands of others on the road.
Now, you can no longer assume what form an event will take, “in-person” or online. For instance, the 2021 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk will be virtual on Oct. 3, while the Pan-Mass Challenge, in August, will allow bicyclists to return to the road.
Such confusion will be typical as we begin the slow march to the “new normal,” and it’s just one more indication that the pandemic has taken a terrible toll, deeply scarring our psyches, souls, spirits and minds.
I’ve already experienced a few examples of this. I was, for instance, nervous when meeting old friends for a cookout at their house, due to vaccination anxiety. My close friends were vaccinated, but I wasn’t sure about their guests, and it’s not considered politically correct to ask people you meet at such gatherings if they’ve been vaccinated.
Being nervous about the “new normal” is also why, despite the risk of ridicule from the anti-mask crowd, I’m still masked when entering supermarkets and other stores.
Another indication that it will take a long time to return to our former lives is the fact that, for the foreseeable future, we are still masked and quizzed about COVID-19 symptoms when visiting doctors, dentists and other medical offices.
Many other pandemic terms and habits also won’t easily go away. Here’s a sampling of them:
Zoom and virtual meetings: too many companies are saving money by not reopening offices and will let remote work continue. The result will be a mixed bag for workers, as the convenience of working from home is offset by the lack of social interaction with co-workers, and that’s unfortunate. It’s hard to judge the sincerity, honesty or determination of someone working remotely.
Remote learning: For the students’ sake, I hope remote learning will go away quickly, since time will show that students at all levels were hurt by not being in classrooms. The social aspects of school – especially playing sports and taking part in extracurricular activities – are vital to students’ development, and that isn’t possible when learning remotely. While shutting down schools was necessary when the pandemic was raging, let’s hope it’s only used as a last resort going forward.
Social distancing: Eventually, this may be a memory, but it’s understandable that in many settings, this practice will hang around. I still occasionally cross the street when I pass walkers, runners and bicyclists on the road, and my first instinct when encountering other customers at stores is to shop quickly – due to the disappointingly high number of people who still selfishly refuse to get vaccinated.
Contact tracing: My dentist’s office is still doing this, and I suspect many other places will continue to hound even the vaccinated into revealing their every destination. With smartphone apps tracking our movements, it’s also why I’m glad I still have a “dumb” flip phone.
The bottom line is that, although we won’t be quickly putting the pandemic behind us, there’s nonetheless real hope for this summer, thanks to the miraculous vaccinations – 2021’s version of manna from heaven.
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.