I’ve spent the pandemic taking daily walks around my neighborhood, along what are now overly familiar blocks. I try to vary my route, but I can tell you which patches of sidewalk are most treacherous, which houses have the most stylish doors, and where the yippiest dogs reside. Last week, a text interrupted this routine, with a link to schedule my first vaccination appointment. For a second, I thought it was spam. But I stopped, and clicked, and very shortly had snagged an appointment, for just a few days later.
The prospect of vaccination shocked my COVID-19 life out of its constrained yet predictable rhythm. I work from home; I wear pants without buttons; I spend Friday nights watching a movie or doing laundry and Saturday nights Zooming with friends. This little world is equal parts dull and intense; everyone I know is sad, exhausted, antsy, and resigned. I can’t wait to leave these confines behind, and yet this world is mine. The people who populate it care about me—they are happy to hear from me, even when I have nothing to say except how hard everything is. The dangers are monumental, but I mostly choose when I confront them. It’s both suffocating and a sanctuary.
In the same way that not everything about “normal” life should return, not everyone is ready to rush headlong into a world reopened. Making sense of this nebulous non-time will take a while (though efforts are already under way). The continuing losses—of life and livelihood, of routines and community, of trust in the future—are so immense and terrifying that they sometimes seem incomprehensible. Yet the emotional healing required for post-COVID-19 life is something a vaccine alone can’t provide. And despite the tragedy and horror, not every aspect of the pandemic has been terrible. With distance and reflection, those of us who were able to hunker down during the pandemic may even come to cherish the shelter of COVID-19 life.