Looking back over columns I wrote a year ago, isolated and afraid, I hesitated over this little tidbit:

“I find myself wondering about how much will fall away on the other side.”

My pandemic experience began with television images of body bags stacked in reefer trucks outside hospitals in Wuhan and northern Italy. Many of those who died were doctors and nurses. When Covid made its way to these shores, my son, a pulmonary care physician, was on the front lines of the surge in a hotspot. He likened it to standing on a cliff with a tsunami approaching, holding a shovel.

My then 84-year-old social animal mother, with a pre-existing heart condition, cloistered for a year.

Our society grounded to a halt and we’re emerging on the other side in fits and starts. To inoculate us from economic catastrophe, government carpet-bombed us with money. The headaches were predictable and they’re hitting home now, with supply chain and workforce woes. An easy tradeoff to prevent a 1930s-style Great Depression.

Got a “meaningful” haircut this week, my first since a February 2020 crewcut. My long hair served a dual purpose. In writing a book about a time in my life when my generation’s long hair was a badge of honor, it helped transport me back in time, creatively. The new ‘do is not my pre-pandemic buzz, but it’s also no longer shaggy ‘70s.

Went for a year without setting foot in a grocery store. Online shopping was so convenient, I thought to myself, I may never set foot in a supermarket again. That didn’t take. I’m back in Dillon’s at least once a week.

On the other side, we’ll spend the next couple of years finding the sweet spot between all-Zoom-all-the-time and all-in-person. Pro tip. If the in-person meeting could have been an email, that goes double on Zoom. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “You’re on mute, (insert name here),” I’d have enough for a Venti dark roast no room at Starbucks.

An in-person Chamber luncheon featuring our Congressman this week felt comfortable and familiar. At a round table with seven others, we all shook hands and the Congressman talked about infrastructure, rural broadband and keeping K-State strong.

It’s not all rah-rah. The pandemic brought to the surface some long-smoldering troubling attitudes and ways of being, evidenced by the response to systems working to keep people safe and healthy. The pandemic ripped a scab off that wound and it’s still bleeding.

With the fam, where it counts, things are also different. No longer cloistered, Mom is going back to church and meeting cronies for drinks. My son survived the tsunami and moved closer to Manhattan. He and his bride are expecting their second son in a month. On the other side, there’s an extra layer of gratitude and effort aimed at not taking those relationships for granted.

Maybe it was the latent journalist in me, but I kept a running tally of those within my professional and social circles who contracted Covid and red-lettered those who died. Wholly informal and unscientific, culled from word of mouth and social media. Close to 100 got sick. 13 died. And those are just the ones who talked about it out loud.

That’s a lot of sadness.

No new names have been added since vaccinations began.

At some point, as a thoughtful citizen, you let go and trust the ingenuity that led to the vaccines and the talent and skill of frontline health care providers. Those gifts transcend any flaws in the systems in which they work. System flaws can be corrected.

I’ve been fully vaxed for a couple of months. Thoroughly Moderna, thanks to the Riley County Health Department. When I ponder the efficacy of vaccinations and our collective ability to learn and adapt, I find myself falling back into a comfort zone of good will.

On the other side, my trepidation and fear has fallen away. It has evolved into confidence and solace, based on the truth.

Mike Matson’s column appears every other weekend in The Mercury. Follow his blog at mikematson.com.

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