Biff America: Too close for comfort
Casey sat next to me and smiled. I returned her grin just before I inched up my neck gaiter over my nose. Truth was, her closeness made me uncomfortable. I thought to myself, “For the love of God, give me some space!“ She sat down only 4 feet away.
During these past 14 months, the expression, “I wouldn’t touch her/him with a 10-foot pole” has taken on a whole new meaning. The optimist in me would like to believe that after countless Zoom meetings, mask-wearing, and treating friends and strangers as though they were a bucket full of Ebola, it is possible this pandemic (in America at least) could be in the rearview mirror.
It seems like every day a new tactile experience awaits me. After a year of cyber gatherings, simply sitting next to someone at a coffee shop or meeting has become a renewed pleasure. That said, it has been a period of adjustment. It has taken some time for me to feel comfortable getting touched by anyone whom I have not signed a prenuptial agreement with. A few days ago, someone bumped into me at the post office, and it felt like an act of adultery.
For years now, I have met with several old friends for caffeine and insults about once a week. This winter, we would sit outside wearing down jackets and ski hats yelling at one another to be heard from 2 yards away.
Considering the cold and space constraints, I won’t say I enjoyed those congregations as much as the previous indoor gatherings, but I will say I needed them more this winter.
A few days ago, this same group met under a new reality. Just being inside at the same table was a fresh sensation, and I got close enough to notice Steve was sporting a mask tan.
Certainly, it would be impossible to downplay the seriousness, tragedy and emotional damage the virus has wrought on the world. But along with that, there has also been a sense of camaraderie and solidarity due to a struggle against a common enemy. I won’t give oxygen to those lunkheads who denied the science and rejected the solutions. I read somewhere that the two major causes of pockets of higher infection are areas with a dense population and areas where much of the population is dense.
Of course, there was a learning curve. But for the most part, most of America recognized the dangers and stepped up and answered the challenge. I would like to think that during these unprecedented, divisive times, if nothing else, most of America was united in a common cause and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.
Though I’m enjoying an end to the time where the only unmarried touching I allowed myself was a root canal, there is a lingering sense of both discomfort and intimacy from finally being in closer proximity and from the occasional personal contact of fellow humans.
For the first time in a year, I hugged someone not in my household. Over the course of almost 9 months, my friend’s wife was diagnosed, treated and survived a serious health scare. When I heard the news that the operation was a success, I was delighted. I had seen her from a distance during the past winter, but I was careful not to get too close — worried that her immune system might be compromised. If this was two years ago, I would have given her a cursory hug to be polite. Six months ago, I would not have dared. But today, considering both of us were vaccinated, I hugged her and whispered, “I’m so happy you’re well,” and that embrace had added meaning.
The aforementioned Casey and I have been serving on some of the same boards and commissions for years. I usually try to sit next to her because she pays attention. In the past, I could always lean over to ask, “What’s better, being in the red or in the black?” During Zoom, I could only text her to ask stuff like that. But last week, we were in person.
When she sat down, and I instinctively pulled up my neck gaiter, she whispered, “You can pull that thing down. We have both had our shots.” I was about to tell her I wasn’t worried about her, but I was concerned about the gal who bumped into me at the post office. But instead said, “Yeah, this might take some time getting used to.”
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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