A week ago, I met a group of friends at a bar for the first time in a year. We were outdoors, in a parking lot. There was traffic going by and our unhoused neighbors had an encampment across the street. Pre-pandemic, my friends and I would not have chosen to meet there, but we drank margaritas and ate chips and guacamole and laughed and talked for hours. Without masks. I was so happy to see their faces I almost cried.
The first time I had a drink in a parking lot, I went to a brewery down near LAX. My cousin had a layover on his way back to New York City from Seattle. My son and his wife and their pandemic baby and I drove down to meet him. Again, we sat outside at a picnic table in a parking lot with traffic and people walking by. And again, it was fantastic. My single cousin had had a particularly hard time during the pandemic. When New York closed up, a lot of his friends fled the city. He lives alone. His job is usually filled with people, and that went away. He could visit his 94-year-old mom only through her kitchen window. There were real tears in his eyes when he talked about being vaccinated, getting on the plane, going to see friends in Seattle and being able to get together with us.
A month ago, I held my first grandchild — the pandemic baby — for the first time indoors and without a mask. She was born in the middle of January. Almost no one was vaccinated then, and for sure, we weren’t. My husband and I could see her, but only outside and only at a distance of six feet with our masks on. We were taking every precaution, having groceries delivered and staying home, and no one felt safe enough for more than that. Finally, the adults were all vaccinated. It was amazing to hold her, to see her first smiles returning mine.
So many post-vaccination firsts. The first time I walked my dog and left my mask at home. The first time I went into a clothing store again, to shop for my daughter’s birthday. The first time I went back to a museum. Each was exciting and wonderful. I felt a little wicked, a little reckless, and I waited for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I shouldn’t be there.
I wore my mask in the store and at the museum, but there were strangers all around me and I was out in the world and I wasn’t doing anything essential. It’s not easy for a grandma to feel wicked. Or excited about shopping. Or reckless walking my dog when I do it twice a day. But I did.
Now what I want is for all of us to hold on to that excitement. I want everybody to keep appreciating these small events. I want us to leave our houses and go shopping as if it’s a gift rather than a chore. I want to continue being thrilled to change my grandchild’s dirty diaper.
I worry we will forget. After these past 15 months, we’re all flirting with some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It’s been a long, hard, scary time, and it isn’t over everywhere yet. But America is mostly through it. It makes sense that we want to just put it behind us, but we cannot grow complacent. We need to remember our time trapped at home, frightened, worried, miserable and sometimes angry. We need to know it can happen again, and we need to be vigilant.
At the same time, we should recognize how lucky we are to be able to emerge from our shells like baby birds, blinking at the world and marveling at it. At a live baseball game, a concert, the jacaranda trees in bloom. Despite all its problems, the world is an amazing place. I hope we will always see it with post-pandemic joy.
Diana Wagman is an award-winning writer of six novels.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.