So what are you going to do once you’re fully vaccinated?
It’s one of the great existential questions of our pandemic time, one that pops up lately whenever I see friends via Zoom, which is almost always how I see friends.
Will we get on a plane? Go back to the gym? Go to the hairdresser, a ballgame, a restaurant, a party? Will we shake hands? Hug? Buy a ticket for Lady Gaga?
Or, given that life is mostly habit, will we keep hanging out on the sofa watching Netflix?
I call these questions existential because doing is being, and for the past year, when we’ve done almost everything differently, the question of what we’ll do next has hung in the misty distance. We could remember all the things we used to do, could dream of doing them again and wonder when we might, but there was no pressure to decide.
Now, as more and more of us get vaccinated, the call to choose gets closer every day, while the answers remain as elusive as clouds.
My pal Mark recently put a version of the question to his Twitter followers. What, he wondered, would Americans do once the pandemic lifted? He proposed three options:
1. Would they party hard to make up for lost time?
2. Would they go back to "normal"?
3. Would they stay mostly isolated because they’ve grown used to their cocoon?
One respondent, noting that the jubilant decade called the Roaring ’20s followed the 1918 flu pandemic, predicted Americans would "party party partay!" No doubt some will, especially the young ones. Photos from St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Chicago suggest many of them have already chosen option 1.
But to Mark’s surprise, there was wide support for choice number 3 — staying isolated. Several respondents happily referred to themselves as hermits, and seemed glad to stay that way.
"I’m a 3 for sure!!" said one respondent. "Love my cocoon, I just don’t have to make excuses now!!"
"Being in a cocoon *is* my normal," said one.
"It’s kinda fun not having to look for parking all the time," said another.
Call it "the other vaccine hesitancy," the reluctance many people will have even when they’re vaccinated to return to crowds and old habits.
For now, that hesitancy is smart. Fully vaccinated doesn’t equal fully liberated, or shouldn’t. The virus and its nasty cousins — the dreaded "variants"— are still lurking, ready to multiply at any opportunity.
The liberation we feel from vaccination is like opening a window on a warm day in March: Yeah, that fresh air feels good, but it’s still winter, you fool. Don’t dream too big.
But it’s safe to guess that even the self-professed hermits will want to leave their cocoons eventually and they, too, will face the existential question: To do what?
I know people who are afraid to plan. Planning — the kind that involves travel, theater, a wedding, a restaurant dinner — is a skill that’s atrophied during the pandemic. Some people are twitchy about planning because they’ve made plans, only to have their dreams dashed when the virus flares again.
Still, we edge closer to a resemblance of freedom. A recent Axios-Ipsos poll found Americans grow more optimistic that the pandemic will end within the year. Nearly a third said they’ve already returned to in-person gatherings. Almost that many say they will once they, or everyone in their circle, is vaccinated. A fifth of the respondents said they’ll wait until officials say it’s safe. Another fifth said they don’t know. Air travel in the United States has risen to its highest level since the pandemic began a year ago.
The wise person still proceeds with caution and carefully calibrated hope. I know a man who recently bought a concert ticket, fully aware he may not go. I know a woman who splurged on a plane ticket, but made sure it was refundable.
For now, I’ve divided my post-vaccination "to do" list into three parts: Things I might do soon (return to the gym). Things I will do soon if the weather warms up (eat outside at a restaurant). Things I won’t do, at least not yet (eat inside a restaurant).
And every few days, I Google flights — Savannah, Georgia, sounds nice in springtime — then I close my laptop and heed the voice that says, "When in doubt, wait."
Mary Schmich wrote this piece for the Chicago Tribune.
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