• Maggie Wheeler

The Question

As the first real whispers of pandemic freedom swirl around our feet, there is much to consider.

I saw the coverage this weekend of Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth to visit the new HMS Elizabeth aircraft carrier and something about it bothered me. It took me several seconds to realize what it was. And then I knew.

No one was wearing a mask.

Great Britain is opening up due to its high vaccination stats and the 95-year-old queen, newly widowed after 73 years of marriage, sported a vibrant red outfit and a glowing smile. I could see it because she wasn’t wearing a mask. Neither were any of the naval personnel around her.

It was a jolt, a concrete reminder that this future of COVID-19 endemic living is not far away here. It is real and will arrive over the next few months. The long national nightmare is coming to an end.

So why the jolt? Why the brief, chest-grabbing intake of air before the rush of emotion around the visual proof of approaching freedom?

Interesting reads coming out in the news feeds right now. Seems that as the pandemic understandably brought anxiety and fear of the unknown to our doorsteps, its end will do the same. It will not be easy to acclimatize ourselves to the social world we once knew well. It won’t be the same, of course. We will always be careful about our interactions and our personal vigilance. It also won’t be a smooth ride back. There will be bumps, burps, stalls and detours along the way.

But we are going back. And the deeper anxiety for most of us comes from the question simmering away in our deeps, a question we were almost hoping for a longer reprieve from facing.

The question: What’s next?

Well, that’s obvious we say. Get out and travel again. Get back to our social habits and relationships. Our sports and concerts. Our living.

Yes, that’s absolutely first up. And even with our natural trepidation, it will be amazing to return.

But here’s the wrinkle with that: We are not who and what we were pre-pandemic. And this goes far beyond our career pivots, our bruised finances, our super-renovated homes, and our parental exhaustion.

We have changed at a very deep level. We have had dangerous things come into our lives, things like time to really think, space from frivolous pursuits, a holiday from relentless holidays used to spend time away from ourselves, and the fading of the myriad small worries and anxieties that usually spin our internal hamster wheel in the face of a very real and present danger.

So what’s next?

Well, that’s the troubling question. Getting dropped into the meat of living and surviving means that all our old plans, interests and amusements no longer fit if we really think about it. As we stood still in this global state of emergency, we grew, we moved, we explored, we downsized, we expanded, we changed.

That means that the answer to the question is also deep inside. It resides at our highest levels of existence because the “usual” will no longer be enough. Life has stirred our sleeping giants and we can be so much more as human beings.

If we want to.

If we choose to.

And therein lies The Question.

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you’re going to jump off a cliff, make it a high one.” Good advice that has served me well over the years. The same holds true when climbing out of a hole, as we will over the next year, to stand blinking in the new sunlight.

So when answering the question, set the bar (the ladder) as high as you can. To do any less would be to walk away from personal and professional opportunities for growth undreamed of 18 months ago.

And as you climb, don’t try to go it alone. Take as many other souls along with you as you can.

That’s the kind of super-spreader event we can all benefit from.

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