Opinion | Let Yourself Enjoy This Miracle Summer

When did it first hit you that, wow, things are sort of getting — better?

If you’re an American living through the whiplash that was this past horrid winter followed by the reopenings of the spring, ask anyone you know and they’ll each have a different answer. For some, it was the moment they got their vaccine. For others, it was attending their first post-lockdown outdoor dinner party with long-neglected friends. Perhaps it was even something as mundane as enjoying a walk outside without a mask or scheduling an overdue teeth cleaning.

Regardless of how you arrived at the conclusion, everywhere you look, you’ll see signs of a country gingerly emerging from a crisis. Gyms are luring back members, restaurants are getting busier and air travel is picking up. Crowds that once would have seemed terrifying are gathering for live music and Covid-19 cases are the lowest they’ve been in a year.

For many, a summer of blissful pseudonormalcy is just around the bend. But for a while I felt I couldn’t quite celebrate.

In 2020, I developed some pulmonary complications; as a result, when the Covid pandemic hit, I was a lot more cautious than some of my fellow millennials. As far as I was concerned, almost everything outside the walls of my apartment was a danger. I’ve been equally queasy about reopening. I didn’t go to an outdoor restaurant until I’d started my vaccination series — and I live in California. Covid-19 had, frankly, made me a paranoid recluse.

Even with my newfound immunity, I hadn’t absorbed the weight of our society shifting back to the Before Times until I got my first haircut and some fresh color: I remember being parked in a salon chair, chatting with my stylist as he wrapped my hair in so many pieces of foil that I looked like a sentient baked potato. Then I remember getting home, staring in the mirror and crying. It was the first day that I looked and felt like myself again since the pandemic started. And it sent me into a spiral of taking stock of all the tiny moments of joy that had been unimaginable just months before.

Last Christmas, my 75-year-old father tested positive for the coronavirus. My family spent the holiday thousands of miles apart, wondering if he’d be in the hospital come New Year’s. By this Mother’s Day, I sat across from both my parents at our kitchen table, beaming as they ate a mediocre brunch I’d prepared. At the height of the pandemic, I’d walk into the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard to take pictures of the eerily deserted thoroughfare at sunset. Now I watch people on the same street drunkenly making out, basking in the sun or passing by with souvenir cups, filled with God knows what, dangling from their eager hands. So much living again, in such a relatively short time.

Before the pandemic had even come to the United States in full force, I had a solid inkling that my August 2020 wedding would be canceled.

Now, two postponements and countless vaccinations of potential guests later, I’m picking up the plans for a day I had almost completely given up on.

Suddenly, everything feels like a blessing. Hugging casual acquaintances, grocery shopping without fear and planning a trip all feel so decadent that I often wonder if I’m worthy of any of it. Forget water into wine; in less than a year, scientists developed a lifesaving medical marvel that sent death rates plummeting. We’re living through a modern miracle.

I want to grovel at the feet of every doctor, nurse, lab assistant and scientist for giving us back these privileges after what felt like an unending season of incalculable deprivation and loss.

Sure, we’re nowhere near herd immunity. But in an individualistic, me-first country like the United States, I’m shocked and thrilled we’ve even made it this far. Being vigilant about the inequality in what and whom we lost is crucial. Still, have we taken enough time to appreciate this relatively normal summer we’re about to experience for the enormous win that it truly is?

There are grounds, I say, for unequivocal celebration.

America’s reopening, depending where you live, has come in inches and miles, in fits and starts. Sometimes it feels hard to trust that we’ll truly be safe as we start stripping precautions away. It’s good we’re cognizant of these risks because, to some degree, our fear kept us safe. But as conditions improve, we also risk becoming prisoners to our trauma, so blinded by anxiety — about emerging variants or the necessary empathy for unvaccinated people around the world — that we’re unable to absorb and fully commemorate the fact that we survived a modern plague.

Pockets of surging cases remind us this pandemic is far from over at home too. There’s much more that could be done — like offering our neighbors more incentives for getting vaccinated and requiring all employers to offer time off for vaccinations (and any side effects recipients may experience). But the presence of these and other problems doesn’t mean we can’t give ourselves permission to relish connecting again in the flesh — or give ourselves the mental health break of feeling relief.

I don’t want to go to a rave and breathe in the sweat from the writhing bodies of dancing strangers — yet. I’m not ready to ditch my mask on public transportation. But I do want to revel in our society’s collective scientific miracle. I do want to be myself again. I want to hug everyone I know, and some I don’t. I want to attend every rescheduled wedding. I want to lie on my parents’ couch with them and endure hours of their hideously boring detective dramas.

Let’s let our summer of joys — exuberant and mundane — begin.

Ali Drucker (@ali_drucker) is a culture writer and the author of the forthcoming book “Do As I Say, Not Who I Did: Honest Advice on Hookups and Relationships in College.”

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