Bracing for a Bumpy Reentry

Going Back to Home, Post-Covid

In June, my family and I will be moving to my hometown. For a variety of reasons, this is an excellent decision for us: four grandparents nearby, great schools, all the seasons! My husband and children cannot wait. I hesitate to say I’m excited, though I am looking forward to living there. I could use some more time to get ready. I need to prepare myself because past me used to live there. And living up to my past self is hard.

I feel like a version of a Before-and-After Instagram post. You know the ones — people share photos of their houses, their bodies, their hair, before and after major changes. Rarely does someone post a worse After picture, unless it is to show the devastation of a natural disaster. Almost always, the After is much better and improved. We all know change is inevitable, but let’s make it good change. In June, I am moving back to my Before picture. Without a shiny After picture.

My anxiety peaks when I think about running into a college friend in the grocery store. What will she think of the gray streaks in my hair? The lines around my eyes? The faded leggings I refuse to stop wearing? What if I am awkward or grumpy or rude? Won’t she be surprised at how bad the After picture is? What if she asks what I do and I tell her that I write for a blog but haven’t gone to graduate school like I planned? What if she expects me to be like the old me, and instead I am just me?

I take great comfort in the fact that my fear of comparison is not unshared. The reentry into post-Covid society is one that is creating anxiety for most of us. While we are all moving back into the world of social encounters, many of us worry we will be awkward. It will be a bumpy reentry. The New York Times article “After Thoughts” quoted a teenager who said, “I’m an introvert, so in some ways being home with my parents and my brother during this time has been a relief … What will the After look like for me? I reckon it will be filled with awkward pauses and stuttering.” I imagine it is the same for many of us; we have not seen our friends except on Zoom, and with excitement comes anxiety. What if they all look and act the same and I’m the weird one? What if I seem different or worse?

Many of my friends share my concerns especially about appearances. Will people expect us to be COVID-fit? Will it show that all I ate last month was Girl Scout Cookies? How fast can an anti-wrinkle cream work? In her article in the Atlantic, “America is about to go Botox Wild,” author Amanda Mull interviewed a woman who remarked, “I don’t want to get rid of the past year entirely. It made me a deeper and better person, I think, or at least a little bit more of an empathetic one. I just really don’t want to physically show how hard the year was on my body. I don’t want the world to see that.”

In an ideal world, we would all show each other grace as we embark on reentry. History and my inbox show us this will not be the case: “Get Dressed Up Again!” “Lose the Covid 19!” “New Planners for Your Busy Post Quarantine Life.” The “Hot Vax Summer” is rapidly approaching, and many of us will be unprepared.

Like all anxiety, I know my fear is projection. It is unlikely that I will run into someone in the grocery store who cares that I have aged over fifteen years. They will not expect me to look the same. It is my own expectation and regret that is crushing me. I see fifteen years when I should have been more disciplined. I should have gone to graduate school. I should have taken better care of my looks. I should still be fun. Similarly, we had fifteen months of quarantine. Regrets about how we spent that time weigh heavy on my mind. Should I have exercised more? Developed more patience? Become nicer?

Like all demands, internal and external, my expectations have stolen joy from our move. The same is true of post-Covid reentry. For a year or more, we’ve all dreamt of seeing our friends face to face, planning get-togethers, dreaming of going to weddings and even funerals in person. Now that the time is arriving, we spend more time worried about how others will react and how we should “not physically show how hard the year was on our bodies.”

However, the joy in our move and in our post-Covid reentry is being restored by love. Three of my mom’s friends have written me or called me to tell me how much they look forward to being our neighbors. They’ve offered to help me with my writing or with our move. My parents have been working on the house we will live in. Old friends have made plans for when we arrive, even though I have been terrible about staying in touch for the past decade. These glimpses of love overcome my fears and remind me that while I am different now, God is not. He is the same as he was in 2006, last March, and today. His love for us has not changed, even though we have. All of our anxiety, our comparisons and judgments are met in him. While we were still Before pictures, God loved us, and regardless of our awkward and weird After photos, God loves us still.