Samuel Wagner: The latent joy from the other side
I have been fortunate enough, recently, to have the chance to spend some time closer to my family while working remotely. The original plan was to head back home for a friend’s wedding, but that was extended to a two-week excursion that has, honestly, felt like stepping into a different world after a year-plus on relative lockdown in the mountains.
Frankly, it was a bit of culture shock. The adjustment back into normal society is going to take a bit of time.
As it is in Aspen and across the country, there is a piecemeal reopening happening, with the main option being “rip off the Band-Aid.” While you can (perhaps rightfully) argue for waiting on higher vaccination results, the 35% of my parent’s home town in central Wisconsin, the 48% of Greater Chicago and 60% or more of Pitkin County will have to do for the time being.
And, amid all this, it’s easy to get lost in the flood of emotions that comes with what amounts to a gigantic, even terrifying, societal shift.
The burdening thoughts of “Am I safe?” when among the crowds (seriously, if you’re vaccinated, be smart, but the bigger worries should be sunburn and bike accidents), the creeping guilt of “Should I be doing this?” that comes from actually enjoying yourself in the company of others and the probing feelings of assuming danger when another person gets too close all collide into the amalgamation of stress that has plagued much of the world through this pandemic. Sound familiar?
And we’re all expected to just drop it.
To do what is typical in a personal, open-ended column and tie this all back to myself, I was ripped (willfully) from my safe cocoon in Aspen and sent through a whirlwind of all these emotions as presented by large crowds and exposed, smiling faces.
I left Saturday morning during Memorial Day Weekend (with only around 15 other passengers, a benefit of the flight time, certainly) to head to Chicago. After the customary day of eating and relaxing after travel, I went with my brother and sister-in-law to a Cubs baseball game at a 60% capacity Wrigley Field.
Which brings me to my first point: Embrace the positive feelings.
Riding the train, walking the few blocks to the stadium, taking photos by the iconic sign, asking OTHERS to take photos, sharing banter with those seated near us in the outfield bleachers — all of it was suffused with a latent joy that had been missing for so long. It was almost offensive, in the purest sense, all of the camaraderie around us.
Did I feel uncomfortable at times? Of course. I’m high risk, I’ve taken the restrictions and social distancing requirements more seriously than most (I believe). It would’ve been much safer to stay at home until things get better. And they can get better, forever. And you can wait, on and on.
But taking a first step back in is a smarter option. And for me, personally, this is the reason I was so serious during the peak of the pandemic. To experience the lift in burden that isn’t an end of the issue, but certainly a move toward something better.
The central point is this: Federal, state, county and local government all need to make decisions about reopening. They all take into account vaccinations, current cases, business and economic issues and an area’s personal situation, along with a host of other topics, when deciding whether and how they can relax restrictions.
However, as that reopening arrives, the onus is on you.
It requires a personal decision to overcome doubts and fears in order to drop a mask, to invite your friends (and their friends) over, to head to a Thursday Snowmass concert and to inch back to the new norm.
Coming to grips with it all is no small task, but, as someone who is heading toward the other end, it is certainly worth it. If, for nothing else, than the shared joy that is in our fellow humans.
Samuel Wagner is a copy editor and designer for The Aspen Times. Getting out of 15-month cocoon has made him start to feel human again.
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