Cautiously Opening Up

I get into in my car in the parking lot and take my face mask off. Breathe, I tell myself.

It’s not the mask that has made my chest tight and my breathing uneven. I’ve just been shopping in a big store for the first time after some of the lockdown restrictions have come off. I’m in shock.

There were signs for physical distancing in lineups, but the rest of the store was a free-for-all. Large family groups shopped together, stopping to chat with friends, blocking the aisle. A child in one of the carts wore a mask, but none of the adults around her did. Strangers stood shoulder to shoulder, looking at makeup. A middle-aged man shouted “social distancing!” at the person who cut in front of him at the cheese display, then again at the next person. I could sense his fear, and if I had had an extra cloth mask in my purse I would have given it to him.

The yellow tape is gone, but the temporary fencing is still there in the park by my apartment

My sister tells me the plans for her husband’s upcoming birthday, and I am nervous. In an on-line community, a fight breaks out between people I know, when one posted a picture that the other didn’t feel showed appropriate physical distancing.

After two months of quarantine, things are beginning to open up, and it is almost as difficult to adjust to as the lockdown.

I am not a fearful person. Last year, I went to Egypt right after an attack on tourists. I took local transit by myself in a large Indian city. I opened my heart again after traumatic betrayal in a long-time marriage. Yet this week, I have found myself nervous and, yes, fearful.

Local stickers

“Now is our time to be kind, be calm, be safe,” is the mantra we repeat in British Columbia. But sometimes the first two are difficult because of our varied ideas of what is needed to keep us safe. In anxious times, judgement feels righteous.

Anyone who does less than me (no mask or social distance inside a store?!?) is endangering lives. Anyone who does more than me (wiping down your groceries and mail? Really?!?) is overreacting.

We have so little control over the COVID situation, so little certainty of where the future leads, that perhaps we put too much importance on what little we can do ourselves.

When I was on my way home from the store, there was a young woman begging by the turn lane. She was young and still trying to look presentable. Her sign said she had no home, no family, and that anything would help.

People tell me not to give money. They’ll only spend it on drugs or booze, they say. I donate to the charities that help the homeless, but I also roll down my window, call her back, and hand her $20. I make a point of meeting her eyes, of telling her to take care. If she spends the money on drugs or alcohol or fast food, then that’s what she needs to do. I’m not one to judge. Like all of us, she’s doing the best she can.

And so— I breathe. I accept my sister’s invitation, knowing I may be the only one in the gathering wearing a mask inside, but looking forward to socializing outside. I remind myself to consider actual risk and current situation before my fear. I accept that others’ stress levels may be higher or lower than mine, and that is their reality.

Be kind. Be calm. Be safe.

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