I’ve just returned from my first trip worthy of the label for over a year.

For someone who’s accustomed to movement, all this holding still has been moderately stressful but also very educational. In the past, I’ve intentionally stayed put periodically to make sure that I’m capable not just of surviving such topographical stasis, but enjoying it; finding value in the geographically consistent.

This pandemic-induced stay-put period has required that I dust off those earlier learnings, but also that I acquire entirely new ones.

I’ve had to figure out, for instance, how to achieve human contact without getting too physically close to anyone (waving at strangers while taking long walks helps) and how to maintain a sense of purposeful growth when everything around me seems to be holding still: lots of little projects with achievable milestones, blended with longer-term pursuits that push me to the edge of my capabilities have helped me cope with this aspect of our collective social lethargy.

All of which has made the fairly hard lockdown I’ve been under here in Missouri, along with my family, a bit more tolerable and productive-seeming; but none of which will make the re-acclimation period any less weird.

I was reminded of this fact on the return leg of my aforementioned trip, when we stopped for lunch in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.

A fast food joint was the only option other than a gas station convenience store, so we sat down at a well-scrubbed table with our food and I found that I was unable, for a moment, to take off my mask despite the well-ventilated space, the spotless surfaces, and the fact that no one outside my pandemic bubble was within 50-feet of me.

The specific type of lockdown I’ve been under has not been everyone’s experience: some folks have been out and about this whole time, facing the myriad dangers inherent in doing so to keep the economy and society churning along for the rest of us.

But for me, from my “working from home and never going anywhere” perspective, thinking through what “next” might look like now that I’m fully vaccinated has required some strange psychological adjustments.

My physical world over the past year has shrunk down to such a finite collection of spaces that I was on the verge of tears the first time I set foot inside a grocery store after such an extended period of ordering everything online for contactless, curbside pickup. Just walking those aisles, picking things up, and seeing other people doing the same felt like such a luxury.

My habits and reflexes have been so completely rewired so that I don’t get sick, and so that I don’t do anything that might get my parents sick, that deviating from the truly bizarre lifestyle tweaks that’ve become normal since early 2020 feels uncomfortable and almost alarming.

I know we’ll all have different responses to this transition—a transition that most of us will hopefully be fortunate enough to go through in the coming months, but which could sprawl to take a lot longer: a transition marathon, rather than a sprint.

I also know that I haven’t experienced a fraction of the weirdness I will experience as a result of this objectively slow motion, but subjectively sudden and dramatic change.

The concept of a hug—that kind of brazen, physical contact—seems almost platonically erotic at this point. And I have no idea what dating in a late-stage pandemic will entail: will we be able to cope with being that close to other people’s mouths?

There are going to be a lot of visceral responses to this civilizational reopening that we’ll need to keep in our back pockets, just in case, while at the same time unlearning them enough that we can function as members of a not-locked-down society again.

This shift will be interesting to watch: in others and in myself.

I suspect that, in many ways, the nature of our collective de-cocooning process will inform the shape of what comes next.

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