Leah and I have now been fully vaccinated for six weeks. During that time, restrictions around the country have loosened steadily, and even in indoor public spaces, masks are disappearing, as are plexiglass barriers and floor decals encouraging social distancing. We’ve had gatherings of family and friends in our home and attended them in others’ homes. We’ve hugged people. We’ve ridden on buses and trains. I spent a day in New York, my first since I moved last year. And then, this past weekend, my social life went from 0 to 60 in the space of a day as I flew to Chicago to compete in the 2021 US Air Guitar National Finals. My first flight, my first hotel, my first restaurant, my first bar, my first karaoke, my first sold-out show, my first time seeing my air guitar family in the flesh. It was all magic, but the catharsis was undercut by both a lingering anxiety and an almost banal familiarity. When I wasn’t freaking out about how wrong it all felt, I was confused by how weirdly normal it all felt. These are no longer things we used to do, they’re things we can now do again, different but the same.
Meanwhile, misinformation is still rampant enough to keep vaccination rates from ever getting high enough for herd immunity, and the vaccines’ resistance to emerging coronavirus variants remains to be seen. Things are unlikely to get anywhere near as bad as they were, but that doesn’t make the skeptics’ refusal to be vaccinated any less obscene, especially when the massive ongoing death tolls in places like India make our privilege so plain.
I’m having a hard time sussing out precisely what this moment means to me. Here’s the best I can do right now: I’m glad we’re climbing out of the abyss; I just want us to be able to say we learned something, that this come-to-Jesus moment catalyzed some kind of post-capitalist civic awakening. Maybe my COVID catharsis is blunted by the seeming inevitability that our imagination for what could be will be overtaken by our desperation to regain what was.