Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a dear lady who had befriended me when I first arrived in Fort Worth eight years ago.
She was nearly 81 when she passed, having lived a good and long life, but her death still came as a bit of a shock because I didn’t know she had been sick (unrelated to COVID-19).
I hadn’t seen her in more than two years.
The activities that had brought us together in the past — holidays, parties, Bible studies — had all been canceled, thanks to COVID.
Any chance encounters or spontaneous opportunities for fellowship that have come to define so many relationships in my vibrant Fort Worth community never occurred because everyone was being cautious.
“We can all live without [insert activity here] this month, this season, this year,” the mantra went. “There will always be another opportunity.”
There is a bizarre cognitive dissonance in such thinking, of course.
It all at once assumes the worst — that the only way to avoid serious illness is avoiding human contact. But it is completely certain that all will be well and that there will, indeed, be opportunities to be together again.
In the case of my friend, there was no such opportunity. She never got to meet my son, who was born just months before the lockdowns began.
With almost two years since social distancing became the hallmark of polite society, I have started wondering how many other opportunities to gather, to hug and talk freely (and unmasked) are forever lost because we ceded our natural inclination to be social to caution and fear.
One of the people who eulogized my friend lamented how his family, very close to the deceased, had avoided gathering with her over the past year for her own health and safety.
They assumed there would be future occasions to spend time together.
His was a deep sense of regret that many people I speak with have felt throughout the pandemic: that living in fear of harming those we love has, in ways we didn’t anticipate, harmed them still.
That all seemed behind us. Life has been largely normal for months.
Then last week, the headlines buzzed with news that the World Health Organization had identified yet another variant, this one dubbed omicron.
Just how serious it is (or isn’t) has yet to be determined.
But that hasn’t stopped some people from resorting to panic.
And it has launched governments the world over — including those in highly vaccinated countries — into crazed lockdowns.
The U.S. government has tightened travel restrictions on passengers traveling internationally, regardless of vaccination status, making it ever more difficult for people long-separated by the pandemic to reunite.
Thankfully, local lockdowns don’t appear imminent.
And in some parts of the country, public health officials rightly appear to be emphasizing a holistic approach to good health — one that includes prevention, early treatment and maintaining a strong immune system — and one that doesn’t advocate for healthy people isolating themselves from friends and family.
With more than two-thirds of Americans at least partially vaccinated, and with effective antiviral treatments soon available, “preventative” social isolation should never again be touted as a solution to fighting a virus that nearly everyone agrees is endemic.
People who didn’t gather for the holidays last year shouldn’t forgo it again this year just because omicron has been found in the U.S.
There will always be another variant.
Next year isn’t guaranteed.
As we trudge into a third year of the world after COVID, nothing seems more necessary than recognizing that a life in fear and isolation is not living at all.