The Big Return by Elsie Ramsey

For those of us who are newly vaccinated, I’m curious to know how you feel now that we are returning to physical interaction?

I am living in an unprecedented emotional state, new to my mental health repertoire. It is as if I am a high school senior about to graduate—filled to the brim with naive excitement for the plentiful pleasures of adult life. “Let me loose on the world so I can make my mark!” describes the sentiment well.

I never had the experience of crossing the threshold from being your parent’s child to adult(ish) autonomy that we see so perfectly distilled in the act of leaving home for college. I left high school early for professional reasons and the transition felt unceremonious and disappointing. For this reason, I became convinced that only through the rituals of graduation and moving could one experience the (sacred) gravity of beginning adulthood. The shift in identity depended on an academic transition. Such a literal perspective was typical of my 17 year old way of understanding the world.

Now I know life is littered with crossings; adulthood isn’t something we ever fully achieve. It’s a life long unspooling of opportunities for growth. The big life events society tells us are most impactful—becoming a parent, getting married, meeting the interpersonal challenges that come with those roles—may not, in fact, be impactful at all.

We all know people who are parents but remain developmentally stunted, sometimes more so than their children. Half of marriages fail because the flexibility, honesty and continuous evolution required to meet the challenges of long term coupling are not achievable by many.

The “post-pandemic return to community” crossing is upon us. I’d like to make the argument that this one promises high grade meaning of the magnitude society assigns marriage. We are being presented the opportunity to become radically different, stronger, and less selfish human beings. The new way of being we choose will not be a temporary phase either: it will remain with us for the rest of our lives. Whether you revert to the status quo or summon the bravery to embrace vulnerability over self protection, we are about to graduate to a more advanced phase of adulthood.

It’s easy for me to chose the latter option because I was unhappy before COVID. Even though I was extremely eager to get back to normal for the first 6 months of lockdown, the life I’d been leading was absent the conditions many cling to for feelings of safety and well-being. My incentive to push our societal life in a different direction is therefore strong.

Maybe I’ll soon tire of pursuing connection with those around me and become weary from committing to personal vulnerability every morning. But for now, I’m full of pure enthusiasm.

As I enjoy my first Spring in Philadelphia, you can find me walking down the street with an unprovoked grin and bounce in my step. It has occurred to me that maybe the universe has granted me the sensation of childlike optimism for what lies ahead, along with the deep pride of finishing something long and difficult that I’ve always associated with graduations. At the age of 40, I welcome it.

The question remains how others will approach the return. It’s hard to know if any significant block of people share my dedication to change.

I’m about to find out.

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