I am one of those kids from the 1960s who was glued to the TV set when John Glenn was the first American in space. Back in 1962, returning to earth without burning up was a theoretical premise. I can’t imagine what John Glen was thinking as he left the weightlessness of outer space and began to plummet back through the atmosphere. I was on the edge of my chair and holding my breath for the approximately 4-1/2 minutes it took for the space craft to land in the ocean.

4-1/2 minutes is a long time. Especially if you are seeing things fly by your window, rocking like crazy and getting warmer and warmer.

While not quite so dramatic, re-entry from COVID holds some of the same edge-of-my-seat focus. I can’t tell you how many people I have talked with recently where the topic of conversation centers on how safe things are and/or will be as more and more of us are vaccinated.

Wearing the Mask

The metric used is often shared like a chorus to a familiar song:  I’m gonna keep wearing my mask, wearing my mask, wearing my mask!  Don’t trust those who don’t!  I’ll be safe and so will you, as long as I am wearing my mask, wearing my mask, wearing my mask.

Over the past year I have accumulated lots and lots of masks. They have found their way into various pockets in coats and pants and can be found hanging from the gear shift in my car. I have others in a drawer near my back door. I have boxes of single-use masks as well as masks I bought hoping they would work only to learn they had design flaws rendering them useless.

I cannot begin to compete with Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, with her collection of coordinated masks for each of her outfits – that is too high a bar. But, I have acquired my own sense of style and have preferred color and fabric combinations.

Given all this, I find it ironic that I have caught myself, once or twice, forgetting to put my mask on before venturing out. Which is rather remarkable, considering how vigilant I am about others wearing THEIR masks. I suspect it is an indication that I am ready for re-entry.

Is It Safe to Travel?

Re-entry is also central to discussions about whether it is safe to travel or not. After this long slog of sheltering in place, I know I have itchy feet. Still, I am cautious. My metric currently excludes travel on an airplane. I am much more willing to drive myself long distances, feeling comfort in my own car and ability to decide where and when I come in contact with others.

I am both envious and a bit shocked at the number of my friends who are traveling by plane to exotic places. None have experienced problems and, as a matter of fact, most have commented on how incredibly clean places are kept. My caution may reflect more fear than fact. And, given the right incentive, I might throw caution to the wind and head out.

I am also noticing an increase in traffic. More cars on the road. More people in the stores. This doesn’t feel cautious. It feels bold. And, I must confess, I am a bit saddened. I have become accustomed to a slower pace with more spaciousness surrounding my activities.

Do We Have to Return to Normal?

This longing to keep some of the changes COVID forced on me makes sense. Now that I have had the opportunity (not by choice) to restrict my “doing”, I am appreciating more and more the freedom that just “being” gives me.

I am not sure I have the capacity to jump back in at the same level of activity as before. The paradox here is that I am embarking on new ventures professionally and personally, and so need to ramp up. Still, I suspect I have learned a thing or two about pacing.

Re-entry after COVID means returning to a world that has been fundamentally changed in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Unlike John Glenn, we will not have a coordinated rescue and recovery team to insure that we get back on our feet, each and every one of us. The inequities that became clear during the pandemic remain, and now are much harder to ignore.

While we should enjoy this surge of hope that we have beaten the virus, it is also important that we take the time to thoroughly investigate the consequences of actions we took to contain it. It’s not over yet and we still need to be cautious. This, too, is a common refrain.

What Does It Mean?

Caution does not mean that I stop doing things. It means that I pay more attention when I am doing them. It means that I carry an awareness of how my actions impact others. What ripple effect will my choices cause?  Caution means that I persistently question my own rationale for how and why I do things, and seek out additional sources of information and fact that both support and challenge my point of view.

Which brings me back to my memory of watching Friendship 7 splash down. There is a fundamental truth about humans:  Until we accomplish something, it remains impossible. Once achieved, it becomes commonplace.

A year ago most of us had never heard of Zoom. Today we are technologically adept and are hosting seminars on Zoom fatigue. Just a year ago I had never heard about a family of viruses known as SARS-COv. Now I am an expert on Corona Virus. Back in March and April of 2020 very few of us were wearing masks. Today we are addressing the environmental problem of mask pollution. Synthetic messenger RNA was being written about in medical journals, but not being used for practical vaccine development. Just four months ago, the Pfizer vaccine was given emergency use authorization, demonstrating the efficacy of this approach.

Back in 1962, John Glenn endured 4-1/2 minutes of the unknown. Today we have people in the Space Station and a hovercraft on Mars.

What seemed impossible has become commonplace. What will be next?

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