“Things are Opening Up”

With the relaxing and reduction of pandemic restrictions, a repeated phrase seems to be “things are opening up.” Some examples in my part of the desert (Tucson AZ): Restaurants-now more than patio or take-out dining. Gyms-longer hours, fewer rules about reservations, but still the multiple reminders to sanitize, clean equipment, have a mask just in case. Stores-distancing circles on the floor are still there-mostly adhered to. Organizations having hybrid meetings-Zoom for those geographically long distance (thank you to my weekly meditation group Zooming from Florida, daily meditation with CSLT, and our HOA for community news updates) and in-person for vaxed folks. Houses are opening to visitors, parties are open to larger groups. Arms are open. Many minds are opening to different ways of talking, acting, being. 

I’m a hugger. Pandemic sheltering at home was a huge dose of social deprivation. Fortunately I live with my sweetheart and we were together 24/7 for 13 months. It afforded us time to talk more with each other, read together, and have some great book discussions. It meant there was no touch deprivation for either of us. But I did miss hugs from friends. The first time after I was fully vaxed my friend and I hugged sans masks, we reacted with a jump back to that six feet apart, a distance which will be forever emblazoned in the minds of millions.

Gradual Social Re-entry for Me

Just as it was so different to build pandemic safety habits, it’s just as different to alter some of them. I’m easing back into an expanded lifestyle.

Like the desert flowers that unfold gradually. For me, social re-entry is easier if gradual. I’m fortunate to be retired so going out is a choice. Not quite ready to go to a really crowded restaurant — for one thing-it seems really noisy now. Not quite ready to get on a plane. That’s just me. My friend flies from FL to NJ, my sister from AZ to NY, other friends have booked the autumn cruise. I do want to go dancing but … Crowded jostling on dance floors seems sort of strange right now. Will we ever blow out candles on a birthday cake again? I’m exaggerating, I know, but it did cross my mind. People will adapt to what is comfortable and safe for them.

I accept the mask culture. How can I assume what the wearing or not wearing of a mask means? Not vaccinated, allergies, to protect the wearer, to protect others, lack of lipstick? Who knows? It may not be the reason I assume.

Bighorn Fire

By June 2020 I was getting the routine of sheltering at home, having signs in my front window greeting my neighbors, and learning to  be as objective as possible to new “abundance of caution” guidelines. I then became one of 982,000 Tucson metro area residents who watched for two months as flames from the Bighorn Fire traveled east to west across 119,987 acres of the Catalina Mts, the result of a lightning strike at Bighorn Mt. Another phenomenon I knew nothing about. Wildfire, controlled burn, smoke, roll-outs, Ready Set Go, evacuations. Anxiety. But I learned with daily updates online and on Facebook from the Coronado National Forest, National Wildfire Coordination Groups, US Forest Service, Section Chiefs and Incident Commanders and more. Those Facebook “town meetings” also connected residents. We got to know who would be on the chat each night for the update, what the hotshot crew’s plans for the nighttime and next day were. For me it eased that sense of isolation and lessened my fears.

The June edition of Tucson Lifestyle features a full article on the anniversary of the Bighorn Fire. The fire scars are evident in the blackened stretches of mountain trails, the trees felled by fire and back burns. It was a frantic rollercoaster last year and gradually, with both pandemic and fire abatement, it’s a gentler ride now. Yet I know it will never be the same.

Most mountain trails are open and I look lovingly at survivor cactus and ferns pushing up nestled next to scarred and blackened trees. Nature is often relentless but also resilient. So are people. I bless first responders and volunteers who protected our homes, neighbors and mountains through the pandemic and the fire.

We’re Creating the New Normal

Humans are social beings; look at ways we have found to stay connected. All over the world and with improved technology, people sang and danced, prayed, wrote, did yoga, told stories, laughed (thank you Unscrewed Theater  for all those ZOOM laughs) wrote books, read books, bought and sold just about anything, had debates, opened Courageous Conversations, celebrated birthdays, anniversary, marriages. The pandemic has rendered some families so broken they will never be the same, and we found ways of saying our good-byes. We’re here, creating the “new normal,” adapting ways that worked during the pandemic to reconnect now and in the future. It can be better than ever before.

How are “things opening up” by you?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.