It’s happening again.
As the Delta variant of the coronavirus ravages the nation, memes about the inevitable disruption of upcoming plans are everywhere. An all-too-common response? I can’t believe you had plans for the fall in the first place.
It’s worth pointing out that a lot of the memes are just jokes. But the critical comments are also the latest example of a long-running pandemic phenomenon: acting like anyone who ever dreamed this era of mask mandates might end, or who dared to set foot outside the door of their home, is hopelessly naive — even dangerous.
This knee-jerk judgment runs counter to everything we’ve learned over the past 17 months. Shaming doesn’t work. People tried it with masks, with travel, with the vaccine. Some have tried to construct entire personalities around staying indoors forever, declining to socialize or go to restaurants.
And of course, there are many people who've had to take these kinds of precautions: the immunocompromised, parents of children too young to be vaccinated, people with disabilities.
And yes, some people behaved recklessly. We know the COVID deniers are out there and have seen the Instagram photos that seem to show scenes from a pandemic-free world. The frustration is very real of feeling like other people are gallivanting about while you’re unable to or are doing the hard work of staying safe to protect others.
But so many have tried to do the right thing. They’ve postponed graduation celebrations, family reunions, vacations, weddings, funerals — and then postponed them again. They’ve worn masks and socially distanced and gotten the vaccine. They’ve been largely confined to their homes or the places they work or learn. They’re intimately familiar with every corner of their apartments, have seen all the shows, have watched the leaves change outside their windows and then change once more. It’s an impossible way to live — not knowing what the next season or even the next week will bring. We're in an endless grind of work or school, with little of the spontaneity or planned joys that make life worth living. Seventeen months is a long time to simmer in a stew of anxiety and claustrophobia.
And the vaccine didn’t unleash a hot vax summer. Instead, it was more like a few brief months of relative relief and calm before Delta upended our expectations yet again. Hospitalization and death rates are soaring, and the headlines talk about full children’s hospitals. It’s hard not to be worn out.
Given all of this, how can we fault people for making plans? Booking a future flight or buying tickets to a concert is a small promise to yourself that one day this might all be over. That feels not just understandable, but psychologically necessary. Yet as August reaches its humid peak, many of those plans are being canceled. We’re tasting that bitterness again.
It bears repeating: We’re in an unprecedented global health crisis. We’re all trying to make it through while keeping on with the messiness and boredom of daily life — the homework and dishes and routine. The least we can do is extend each other some grace.
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