Wow! It’s been almost a year since I last posted. Perhaps I need to embrace this flaw in my creative personality that is becoming more and more obvious to me as I age and contemplate. But that’s a whole other conversation.
Last weekend I went to the mall. Usually in pre-pandemic days I would steer clear of malls, especially on a weekend or unless there is a specific location within the mall where I run in, do my thing, leave quickly. My original intent with this visit was to purchase a specific item at a specific store. The parking lot was predictably crowded, but I found a spot pretty quickly thanks to the karma of someone leaving just as I arrived. The store I was visiting is near the mall entrance and I found what I need quickly and walked out of the store. This is when things got weird for Jeanne’s world. I saw all the people wandering up and down the mall in the glitter of lights and mercantile, and I was drawn into the flow, gazing at store windows, people watching, walking aimlessly the length of the hall and back, just being among people, before exiting slowly back to my car. I relate this seemingly unremarkable adventure to illustrate in some small metaphorical way how much a year of fear and quarantine has changed us.
In May of 2020, I posted about Shuttered Albuquerque, including a photo of the empty parking lot where my car was now nestled among hundreds of others. Fifteen months later, all those shoppers who were huddled at home are now out and about, many without masks, and strolling the indoor mall. And this in New Mexico, where restrictions have been both exceptionally strict and exceptionally well followed by the populace. As for myself, my Independence Day (AKA the day I was considered fully vaccinated) was April 7, 2021. I am one who followed the CDC guidance faithfully during the Year of Covid. For the first few months, I stayed home. Period. Rachel and Bret even purchased and delivered my groceries. As the months passed and the case count diminished and precautions like masks, social distancing, and our understanding of what constituted transmission danger were refined, I began to venture out to the grocery store and to take advantage of curbside pick-up (thank you Target!) and, of course, outdoor activities.
Even after April 7, the change from then to my mall adventure was in a way gradual and in a way sudden. It was like walking outside after a long period in a cave – the lights are bright, movement is everywhere, blink, what do I do now? I slowly realized that perhaps if I went to a store that wasn’t the grocery I wouldn’t be unnecessarily risking my life. As an aside, keep in mind that I was convinced that if I as an old person with other underlying conditions contracted Covid 19, I would die. Then, consciously or unconsciously, I realized that I could continue to follow the CDC guidelines, which now meant that with appropriate precautions I could travel with my sister – shopping our way to Santa Fe and eating in restaurants and staying at a hotel (check); fly to Indiana, visit with vaccinated family and friends, eat out, go to a movie (check).
Post pandemic guidelines in New Mexico continue to evolve. Right now – happy actual Independence Day! – the official guidance is that things are pretty much wide open with businesses and venues setting their own guidelines for masking and occupancy restrictions. However, I think most of us are still working under a vague dread that perhaps things are not completely over – well, of course they’re not completely over. Nationally, we have not yet achieved a 70% vaccination rate, and many are still resisting. New variants are cropping up and people are still getting sick and some are dying. Worldwide, the situation is still dire in many countries and vaccine accessibility and rollout are slow. There is still much for us to learn about how this virus will remain and be managed as part of our health dynamic.
I think I currently share the outlook of many. With new appreciation, I’m happy to cautiously experience some of the freedom of my pre-pandemic life. I’ve learned that I can personally endure isolation but that I prefer access to others. As a society, many are still struggling to recover from the emotional and economic scars and losses of the last year. I hope that some lessons have been learned and that we know what needs to be changed in order to be bettered through our suffering. Fingers crossed.