Well, it happened again: an entire year went by without writing a single blog post. (In my defense, I do feel that enduring a pandemic is a reasonable excuse for slacking.) I was recently discussing with a neighbor about how much we’ve all learned about ourselves and our neighbors; it’s an odd feeling to know with such clarity which people would be the first ones to die in a zombie apocalypse. The COVID saga isn’t yet over (and, sadly, right now I fear that it will never actually be over), but those of us still here have been through a crucible. We are all changed, different from what we were a year ago.

Some of us recognize changes within ourselves, some of us do not. All of us have more undiscovered stress and trauma to process. (Yes, even those who live in blissful denial of the reality of a virus have shared in this collective awakening.)

For me, here is what I have learned.

I’m not as much of an introvert as I thought

I mean, I am more introverted than extroverted, but there are shades of gray. Losing the option to venture out to a coffee shop and work from a laptop surrounded by the low hum of other humans was a much harder transition than I expected. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’m blissfully launching myself into the real world at a frequency and intensity that is quite unusual for me.

And I don’t think it’s only about making up for lost time; the prolonged social abstinence seems to have rewired what my needs are. I’m more involved – invested – in my community. And it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one. Part of that is because…

Stress can make people behave irrationally (aka “the crazies”)

It saddened me to see public health policy turned into such a brazenly partisan political debate. We could have a much larger conversation about hyperconservative political strategy, but I don’t have the energy for that right now. What I will say, though, as a person deeply invested in data and science and using empirical knowledge to inform decisions, is that there are a lot more crazies out there than I realized. Maybe it’s always been that way and I’ve just not been paying close enough attention, or maybe the stress of our collective cognitive dissonance fueled the emergence of crazies, but either way I’ve come to accept that “love thy neighbor” requires a hell of a lot more empathy than I’d bargained for.

But, I’m trying. Because what’s the alternative?

Everyone is selfish

No matter how hard we try to show some grace to our neighbors, to nudge people toward decisions that are for the greatest collective good, or try to role model wisdom and decision-making in the face of unknowns, we all want what we want and are drawn towards decisions that lead to those desired outcomes. For example: I love travel, and have missed it dearly. So has my son, because I’ve done my best to make him love travel as much as I do. But we’ve both known throughout this past year that travel is just not a practical goal. But now that I’m vaccinated, we’re heading on holiday as soon as humanly possible, even though we know risks persist.

Risk is now a conscious thing

The most important shift for me, I think, has been a reframing of how I think about risks in day-to-day life. I never contracted COVID and haven’t had a near-death experience, but there’s something about watching so many people needlessly die that reminds me how we are all closer to death. Day-to-day risks may be quite small, but the risk is always there. Looking forward, in a world where COVID illness likely never goes away and annual seasonal deaths due to flu/pneumonia/COVID are double or triple what they used to be, there’s just more reason to live more aggressively.

It will never be possible to completely remove the risks of COVID from my personal life, only to minimize it.