I have friends who are playing golf and enjoying happy hour, and friends who won’t leave the house until a vaccine is found for Covid-19. Just as the virus reveals the fault lines between those who take responsibility and those who seem oblivious to the threat—seen most easily in those who wear masks and those who refuse—I’m also seeing the different safety thresholds in friends and acquaintances.
It feels like everyone needs to make their own decision, weighing the inherent or possible risks against the rewards. You take into account your health but also your comfort level. For some people feeling secure is the most important factor, while others, like me, need to be out in the world. Stuck inside, I can easily fall into dark thoughts. Outside, even if just a walk around the block, my mind opens up and experiences other worlds besides the claustrophobic one inside my head.
But it’s a different decision for everyone. I have friends who are staying inside and enjoying what they call the “monastic” life—quiet, contemplative and simple. For introverts, the pandemic is proving to be a legitimate reason not to be social.
For each interaction, we bargain with ourselves and measure gradations of risk. I avoid going shopping but took a plane to Wisconsin this summer to see my family, telling myself the forced air on the plane makes it safer than the grocery store. Emotionally, I needed to get away from the smoky skies in Colorado and reconnect with siblings at the family cottage that holds lots of good memories.
In Colorado, I hike with friends, but we wear masks in the car on the way to the trailhead and try to stay six feet apart on the trail. Some friends haven’t gone to a restaurant in six months, while others consider dining out a necessary staple of life and continue to patronize their favorite places—whether on the patio or inside where tables are spaced apart.
Friends who have avoided socializing for six months find they miss their grandchildren so much that entertaining them in the backyard is worth any risks of getting sick. And retirement communities are finally realizing that the cost of keeping their residents isolated is not worth the pain of their loneliness and are now opening their doors to visitors—with restrictions, of course.
For the first few months of the pandemic, I avoided going into stores or spent as little time as possible. But I love reading, and ordering online doesn’t come close to the pleasure of walking through aisles of books in my favorite local bookstore, waiting for a title to reach out and grab me. Even though all those books have been touched by others, and the aisles are narrow, it’s worth the risk of catching airborne virus particles in order to partake of one of life’s big pleasures for me.
So we all draw our own lines, figuring out what is essential in our lives and what is not, and hoping that the invisible fortress we’ve built for ourselves keeps us safe.