It’s been the burning question for over a year: When will things go back to normal?
This simple query has spawned a surprisingly diverse array of articles and essays.
Some focus on medical experts, and their sense of when the virus will no longer be a threat, allowing society to cast all COVID-19-related caution aside.
Others take a more psychological angle, looking at people who are anxious about the upcoming shift to a post-pandemic society, and what might be done to assuage their fears.
And some offer a more provocative view, that life will never really return to normal, that the pandemic has permanently altered society as we know it. Some even go so far as to suggest that a return to normal isn’t desirable – that we should embrace the changes wrought by COVID-19.
“Returning to ‘normal’ is among the worst things we could do post-pandemic,” a February op-ed in the Baltimore Sun proclaimed, before observing, “When things are humming along as usual, we have little incentive to muck with the system in any significant way. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? The problem is, so much is broken, but we can’t see it because it’s what we’ve always known.”
Here’s my prediction: Normal is coming, and it will be here sooner than we think.
Yes, there are going to be some changes, though it’s too soon to say exactly what they’ll be.
Perhaps the workplace will undergo a fundamental shift, with more employees working from home when able.
Perhaps schools will continue to offer virtual classes to families who prefer that option, while colleges provide more robust online programming. Perhaps more of our shopping and entertainment will migrate online, leading to an epidemic of empty storefronts and shuttered businesses.
Certainly, I expect some things to be different.
But consider me skeptical of the “we’re never going back to normal” narrative.
With over one-third of Americans now fully vaccinated, people who spent much of the last year social distancing are starting to loosen up, embracing the freedom that comes with being protected from the virus.
I’m one of these people.
Since getting my second vaccine shot, I’ve happily eased back into something resembling a more normal life.
I ate inside a restaurant with friends for the first time in over a year. I’ve started scanning movie listings and concert boards. Occasionally I pencil an event or an engagement onto our calendar, blank for almost a year. And I’ve started planning vacations and trips to see friends.
Things might not be 100% normal, but I can feel normal creeping back, like a slow-moving sunrise bringing light to the darkness.
It’s a good feeling.
Of course, it probably bears mentioning that a full return to normal won’t be possible until children can go to school every day, and parents who have taken time off to provide childcare are assured that this crucial support will be in place in the fall.
Not everyone is ready for a full return to normal.
In April, The New York Times printed a piece called “The Nervous Person’s Guide to Re-entering Society” that addresses those with lingering concerns and fears.
I know some of these people, and I respect the slower, more cautious path toward normalcy that they’re taking.
It’s been a long, tiring year, and people should feel free to move at their own pace, to do things when they’re comfortable doing them.
All I can say is that, for me, the vaccine has been liberating, and I’m excited for the summer ahead.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.