On Sunday we went back to church in person for the first time since the pandemic started. They tried to ease us in gently; we met outside in the parking lot, ensuring lots of fresh air. 

Only a few kids too young for vaccines wore masks. Nobody checked vaccination status or temperature (eh, the temperature checks are health theater anyway), and they didn’t ask unvaccinated people to wear masks. Overall our church has taken a delicately hands-off approach to vaccination that doesn’t even extend to encouraging people to get vaccinated. In-person masks were strictly optional, depending on how comfortable each individual felt about their risk.

I have opinions about this: We absolutely should be strongly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated! No coddling crazy conspiracy-theorist anti-vaxxers! But I can understand the challenge of trying to remain welcoming to all different people, even nutcase stupid people who think Bill Gates is taking over our minds by injecting us with nanobots that have something to do with cell towers. I forget. Anyway, sorry, my prejudice is showing. I do believe we need to be welcoming to all people, but not to the extent that we’re willing to endanger our childrens’ health by exposing them to voluntarily unvaccinated people.

In any case, I’m still processing the feelings and experiences from that in-person service. 

During the service, I kept having spikes of anxiety as people sat right next to me, sang aloud, mingled to greet each other, and generally did pre-pandemic church things. At times I literally had to tell myself to stay seated, forcing myself to sit there instead of standing up and walking to a safe-feeling distance away. It was really hard.

I thought I’d feel a lot happier to hear people singing together, because online church music just doesn’t work. I did a little bit, sometimes. But a lot of the time I just felt anxious at all those people exhaling and breathing each other’s nasty lung air — even though we were outside.

At times when we had a chance to socialize with other people, I was happy to see friends I haven’t seen in ages — but completely failed to socialize in any normal way. I had all the vibrancy and enthusiasm of a blob of spit on the sidewalk. Nobody seemed to know how to do it. “Uh, hi. How are you, person I haven’t seen for the most harrowing year and a half in living memory?” What do you say? I need to figure out how to start these conversations, because I’m going to have a lot of them in the next few months.

When we got home, Ian and I both laid down and slept for an hour. We were exhausted after an hour of in-person activity with more than one single non-family member. (Benji went off to play with grandparents and seemingly had no ill effects, possibly having been more habituated to people by school and summer camp.)

Over time, I trust this will go away. Because intellectually, I know what we did was okay. Low-risk. Safe enough, for all us vaccinated folks. But emotionally it hit me hard, and I left feeling relieved to go to our safe, quiet, people-free home. Maybe next time I’ll feel a little less anxious and a little more positive. I imagine this’ll just be a matter of habituation, and eventually it’ll be normal again. Maybe.

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