Asher on Aspen: Return to normalcy

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
A large crowd enjoys the music by Pandas & People during the first Thursday night Fanny Hill Concert in Snowmass Village of the summer on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The concerts will continue on Thursday nights through August 26 this summer. Pandas & People said that this was their first live concert since the pandemic shut down live music. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about one particular history lesson from high school. During the U.S. election of 1920, presidential candidate Warren G. Harding launched a very successful campaign themed “Return to Normalcy.” It summoned a return to the way of life before World War I, the First Red Scare, and the Spanish flu pandemic. In the most notable speech of his campaign, Harding addressed the nation by saying:

“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”

Over a century later, this statement is as true today as it was in 1920. It has been 15 months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a novel coronavirus, a global pandemic. For the past year-and-a-half, the nation has been asking the question, “When and how will things go back to normal?” When will large gatherings return? When will travel restrictions let up? When will greeting each other with a hug be considered acceptable again? When will masks become a thing of the past?

People are seeking familiarity. They want to go back to how life was pre-pandemic. Locally, in Aspen, I know that we’ve all been waiting for that moment when our town would fully open its doors once again — when events would resume, restaurants would run at full capacity and tourists would return. Well, after months of waiting, it feels incredible to come to the realization that I think that moment is finally here. That moment, in all of its glory, didn’t reveal itself to me until recently, when I attended one of the weekly Fanny Hill concerts in Snowmass.

Of course, I had experienced glimpses of the world opening back up again — the first day I didn’t have to wear a mask in the grocery store, the first night the bars didn’t have an early curfew, the first day I got to return to my office for work, and the first time I didn’t have to quarantine after traveling on an airplane. But it wasn’t until recently that I finally felt like the world was on the other side of this thing and that normalcy was slowly starting to creep back into our lives.

Upon arrival at this quintessential Snowmass summer tradition, my friends and I started running into people we knew. First, we ran into my friend’s parents who parked right next to us. After chatting for a minute, a family that I used to babysit for came rounding the corner. The kids ran up to me with ecstatic glee and they acted as if they hadn’t seen me in years. As we started walking up Fanny Hill, I heard a familiar voice calling my name. I looked back, and to my surprise, it was a friend who had moved away several years ago and was in town for the weekend.

The night continued in this way, and I kept running into people whom I hadn’t seen since 2019. It felt like one giant reunion with all of the people who I’d ever met in Aspen over the past five years of living here. Multiple times throughout the night, I found myself telling people the gist of my life and asking people for the gist of theirs. “So, are you still working there?” “Are you still living here?” “What’s that, you got a new job?” “Oh, good for you!” One might think this conversation would get tiresome after a while, but on this specific night, it actually had the reverse effect. I felt invigorated to see so many old friends and to catch up with varied people in just one night’s activity. The reunion of old friends, paired with live music and the stunning mountain backdrop made for the perfect Thursday evening.

I know the world will continue to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus for years to come. But I must admit, it felt refreshing for things to feel somewhat regular and safe again. Despite differing political views, I think everyone can agree that the “return to normalcy” is what our nation needs right now. We don’t need a political debate, but rather, a conversation about coming together and moving forward with grace and respect. After re-reading Harding’s famous plea for normalcy, it appears history has repeated itself once again.