If back in March I was struggling with accepting the reality of a pandemic, I am now struggling with accepting that the pandemic is still very much happening.

I mean, to be clear, I understand that it IS, and that there has been no magical erase-the-virus development, and that cases are on the rise in, what, 21 states now?, and here in my local county which has had relatively few cases there have been 3 recently (a child under 10, a teenager, and someone in their 30s, so that’s … worrying), and everywhere I’ve been since restrictions were lifted shows that at least half the city is unwilling to wear masks (especially at Cabela’s, predictably), so it seems like it stands to reason that things remain pretty Not Great, Bob.

Still, our local reopening (phase 2, which Oregon will be in for a long time assuming we don’t go backwards — phase 3 seems to be specific to “after there’s a vaccine”) really normalized things in many ways. Yes, every store now sports a confusing maze of arrows and signage and warnings, and yes a fair number of people are now masked, but otherwise it kind of feels like…life goes on?

I read this story about a woman who got sick and 15 of her friends tested positive after they all went to a bar together, and the part that stood out to me (aside from the 15 friends) (I’m socially crippled so maybe that only sounds like a lot to me?) (15, though! That’s like…an entourage) is how she said,

“The state opens back up and said everybody was fine, so we took advantage of that. (…) It was too soon to open everything back up.”

This was in Florida so maybe that’s how things were communicated from the state, I don’t know, but here in Oregon there’s definitely not been any Official Word that everybody is FINE if they go out. It seems pretty clear to me that the reopenings come with risk, and if you go to a bar with fifteen unmasked friends…well.

However, I can sort of understand the point of view that reopening implies a sort of safety endorsement, even with the ongoing recommendations to limit outings. Like, how bad can things be if TJ Maxx is open, right? This is where my brain gets complacent and I find myself much less vigilant than I was a couple months ago.

I don’t agree that it was too soon to open things back up. Or more accurately, maybe, it doesn’t really matter what I think or even what health experts think — everyone being in strict quarantine simply wasn’t sustainable. Aside from the real issues of economic and social damage, people just weren’t going to do it forever.

So here we all are in a world of choices and nobody wants to live in a state of paranoia and we’re all pretty tired of being worried about whether that grocery store outing is going to kill us (or the lady next to us in line) but the virus is still every bit as real as it was in March.

It seems like this stage is even harder in some ways than being in lockdown. This is where we have to take personal responsibility, decide for ourselves each day what seems acceptable, and stay committed to handwashing/masks/distancing.

I’ve been getting lax, for sure. Most of the time I like to know that I’m not alone in my ill-advised fumblings, but in this case it’s not particularly reassuring.

“It’s so hard to find my footing lately,” I said to a friend yesterday. It was the best I could do to describe the feeling: like being buffeted by waves, maybe, or forever caught in the heart-sink of that half-dream where you’re walking down a set of stairs only to find the next one has disappeared.

It is a time of self-reckoning in so many ways and I suppose it is only right and fair that I have been looking at myself and seeing how I have allowed myself to become so very complacent. I see a person who has chosen to believe I stand for many things that I don’t actually put action behind.

It’s much easier to think or say Well of COURSE I am not racist, of course I value this or I support that, than to delve deeper and ask myself what I really and truly believe, what truth lies deepest in myself. The ugliest stuff, the most shameful and immobilizing.

I care less about things that don’t affect me directly. That’s the real truth and I am ashamed to say it but if I don’t excavate it out into the open I’ll never face it.

I hate that truth and I wish it were not part of me but it is and it requires work.

I see so many people doing so much work right now and I feel overwhelmed by all the social posts of books people are reading or places they’re donating to or the protests they’re joining. I envy their clarity in many ways: I myself feel caught in place. I am full of media mistrust and weary of shifting groupthink and wholly uncertain what I stand for aside from the wimpy cop-out answers that come from some half-baked utopian fantasy.

Addiction recovery talks about the simpleness of doing the next right thing. Meaning that rather than getting caught up in the freakout of “I can’t do this forever!” you focus on the next right thing. Maybe it’s going for a walk, or talking to someone, or having a glass of water.

For me I suppose the next right thing is to sit in this stew of discomfort and confusion. It’s to keep myself open to learning and listening, and to take breaks when the message — whatever it might be — becomes lost to the noise.

Maybe feeling stuck isn’t a bad thing, however bad it feels. Maybe the point is to stop doing a halfass job of spackling over the buried garbage, in order to build a more solid foundation before moving forward.

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