The first time I ate at a restaurant after COVID hit was in September 2020. That seems wild from this late pandemic vantage point — six whole months of eating solely at home. No, thank you.
It was nothing fancy. A glorified foot truck cluster on an apple-picking farm upstate. My husband, kids and I sat at a large picnic table, socially distanced from our companions, another family with whom we’d planned to sort through the dregs of macintosh and red delicious apples.
The weather was perfect — blue skies, warm breezes. That magical sliver of a moment between summer and fall. We ate greasy French fries and drippy tacos, drank too-sweet strawberry lemonade and probably worried about whether we were distanced enough, since we knew so little about outdoor transmission then.
But it was a revelation.
What a thing to be with friends in person! To let our kids play with other kids! To talk to other adults, unplugged! To eat food we didn’t prepare, nowhere near our home! What a high to be social again, out in the world! What a rush of joy!
As the pandemic has progressed, especially since the vaccine became available for adults and children, there have been more joyous — though tempered — occasions like that: reunions with friends and family, returns to regular school, visits once again to movie theaters and plays, the abandon of hanging out indoors with friends for the first time in so long! (Imagine never having to wither in the elements in order to spend time with people! Imagine access to an actual bathroom!)
Simply having our lives returned to us — changed, yes, and unstable, but at least in some form — was enough to bring some bliss.
And yet that happiness has proved, not surprisingly, short-lived. For one thing, despite the previous deprivation, even the best circumstances too quickly normalize. Soon, fries at a picnic table become run-of-the-mill, limp and under-salted. While the pandemic has waxed and waned, allowing us different degrees of comfort and freedom, it remains a weight on our shoulders, something worrisome and restrictive that we carry with us wherever we go.
Also, considering the stress of the pandemic, it felt as if all the other bad news should take a temporary hiatus. But…