The party was already well underway when they arrived. The glowing golden orbs of string lights gently swung in the early evening breeze like grandma’s pearls, mildly yellowed with age. Across the grass came the joyful murmur of lively conversation, occasionally punctuated with a crescendo of laughter that wasn’t muffled by a mask.
They hesitated, taking it all in from afar. Feeling an indescribable pull towards the gathering, while simultaneously frozen; reluctant and cautious.
How would they even approach a group of friends, acquaintances, and potential new contacts after this long bizarre year? What would they talk about? How would they strike up conversation?
This past year had felt as though they had been holding their breath, hoping everything would resolve. They had only really spoken to their cat for the better part of a year, and that had begun to feel relatively normal. They wondered if they even remembered how to chat with anyone human anymore.
They flinched watching people mingle around the food table, leaning close, talking loudly, filling plates, casually passing shared serving utensils. But, I’m fully vaccinated now, I can safely do those things too, they reassured themselves.
They recognized a woman they knew, although they hadn’t spoken since the beforetimes. They wondered how she’d been, how her kids were doing, what was new (or the same). They stayed rooted to their little post in the grass far from the party, considering how to even approach and reunite after the past year, still holding their breath.
So many possible conversation topics swirled in their head. Remote schooling? The election? January 6th insurrection? Asking after their partners/relatives/extended families? Their favorite hobby during quarantine? How’s work these days? How about that heat wave? What about the mayoral candidates? Thoughts about the City Council or School Committee races?
Every possible conversation topic brought immense waves of emotion; the year had been fraught for nearly everyone in a variety of ways.
Remote schooling had been so hard and isolating for many children, not to mention to stress and aggravation for teachers, administrators, and school committee members. The presidential election divided families along party lines, causing complicated emotional pain and disappointment, compounding the pervasive sense of loss that had already marked the strange year. Moreover, many friends and neighbors lost loved ones to virus, especially those who were elderly or with complicating health conditions. They worried that any mention of family could only exacerbate and the sense loss. Bringing up people’s employment was risky, considering that so many had lost jobs, struggled to balance childcare and work, or were simply experiencing zoom burnout. Not only that, even chatting about the weather felt charged, considering that mention of a heatwave would raise all sorts of climate crisis questions, all too heavy for their first party of 2021.
No, they decided, no topic was free of pitfalls. Perhaps they should just abandon the party, go home, and avoid all the possible upsetting topics and awkward conversations?
The light was shifting now, easing into evening, casting a golden purple hue over the trees and rooftops. They took a step or two closer to the group, the exquisite summer sunset urging them on. They took a deep breath, reveling in the succulent summer aromas of fresh cut grass, fragrant blossoms, earthy mulch from the garden beds, tantalizing aromas from the sizzling grill.
They took another breath, realizing that they didn’t need to find the perfect conversation topic, or even say much.
Just being together, just breathing together is what matters now.
Happy summer everyone!
May we safely ease back into society with gentle generosity, curiosity, and the understanding that we’re all a little off, for myriad reasons.
May we all breathe easily together once more.
Chelsea Kline is a social justice advocate in western Massachusetts and a mother of three. She writes a monthly column for the Gazette.?