In April, my husband and I — fully vaccinated and ready to (safely) mingle — attended our first gathering (of more than six, socially-distanced people) since “The Before.” (That’s our phrase for anything that happened prior to the pandemic.) To our delight, the occasion was a crawfish boil. The guest list included the same folks present at the last gathering we attended in “The Before” of early March 2020 — a crawfish boil at the same friend’s home. We discussed how it felt as though we had come full circle.
The boil was oddly both a sorrowful and a joyful moment. While we’d seen everyone over the past year, we hadn’t all been together in the same place. The weight of loss, isolation and uncertainty was coupled with the joy of togetherness, friendship, love, community — and, of course, crawfish. Joy was of course the more prevalent emotion, but there in my mind’s darker reaches was a sadness over all we’ve lost.
That sadness is grief, which as we all know comes in waves at inopportune times like during a boil. For the record, I’m not what you’d call an overly emotional sort. But the pandemic has surely worn on us in many ways and, it seems, I’ve come out the other side with a more sensitive constitution. Which is fine, but I’m still getting used to it. One minute I’m hugging necks and pinching tails and the next, I’m looking out over my friends as they tell stories, laugh, sip their beers and wait for the second batch and the next, I’m overcome with emotion. I’ve missed them all so much. I’ve missed having them in my life so much. I’ve missed so much of their lives. They’ve missed so much of my life. I know we’ll catch up. But in that instant, I feel the loss. Then just like that, the wave breaks, and I’m in the thick of it, joking around, reveling in togetherness.
Since the boil, there have been a slew of “firsts.” A dinner party inside a friend’s home to celebrate all of us being fully vaccinated. A trip home to Kentucky for a family event. Having a (vaccinated) friend over for tea inside my home. Eating inside a restaurant again for the first time. OK, lots of restaurants.
As I’ve written in this space before, trying out new restaurants and revisiting old favorites is one of my hobbies. Boy, am I glad to get back to it. Takeout has been a wonder but give me the full experience of dining in every single time. The food is of course the main event, but being immersed in a restaurant’s visual atmosphere, enjoying the waitstaff’s hospitality, experiencing each dish the way the back of the house crew and chef intend it, the din of fellow diners — this is what I love about trying new eateries. Each time we hit an old or new spot, I can literally feel joy emanating from beneath the chef’s or owner’s or chef-owner’s mask. I can also see that mix of joy and sorrow in their eyes. They’ve been through it, y’all.
We’ve all been through it.
As odd as it may sound, I want to remember not only the joy, but also the sorrow of these moments. Some of us have lost more than anyone should bear over the past year and, as I said, I want to honor and remember those losses, because they matter. I also want to remember the big and small things that got me through it, like long walks in our neighborhood, porch sits with friends and porch concerts from strangers, as well as — most of all — the love, compassion and kindness born of the connection of a shared experience — even a tragic one. Now that we’re entering “The After,” I aim to cultivate the good that came “during” and to cherish togetherness, friendship, love, community — and, of course, crawfish. We’ve come full circle.