Diane Duncan and her daughter Kelly are among the many who look forward to more family time.
Diane Duncan and her daughter Kelly are among the many who look forward to more family time. Lookout’s Wallace Baine is looking forward to more time with mom, too.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
The Here & Now

In this year of the emotional sneaker wave, there will be well-earned tears when we finally get to hug Mom

THE HERE & NOW: As the world passes the first anniversary of the pandemic shutdown, the emotions of the big and small moments to come might take us all by surprise.

Sometime this summer, I plan on hugging my mom.

At one time not too long ago, such a declaration would have been bizarre, if not nonsensical — like saying, “It’s my goal, by the end of the year, to pet the cat.”

But for anyone who lived through the last year, looking forward to doing what was once commonplace — particularly when it comes to connections with loved ones — resonates profoundly.

As Santa Cruz County inches out of the pandemic, Lookout is chronicling the changes in our lives and the accomplishments of everyday people. “People in the Pandemic” is one of eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of life amid COVID. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, and sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here.

As we cross the threshold of the first anniversary of the pandemic shutdown, people around the county and across the country are all acclimating to a new set of circumstances. It still feels daring, even a tad reckless to say so, but here goes:

Folks, we’re almost through this.

After a solid year of tight-lipped pessimism and ominous forecasting, the scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic — and the media covering it — has turned a sharp corner in recent weeks. And the change in tone and outlook is stunning.

All signs point to one thrilling conclusion: Normal (or at least normal-ish) is coming. And, speaking for the entire human race, I’d be quite happy with normal-ish.

To take but one example, The Atlantic magazine, a source of plenty of operatic doom over the last year, recently published a pandemic story headlined “A Quite Possibly Wonderful Summer.”

The new optimism comes with a cascade of caveats and conditions, mostly because that’s how scientists think but also because the cost of complacency is potentially much steeper than the cost of continued vigilance.

There are still troubling scenarios of possible reversals, variants remain a wildcard, and the hangover from a lost year, in the realms of public health, education and the economy, is going to be gnarly.

Still, with vaccination rates steadily on the rise and new cases and deaths plunging, it’s difficult not to entertain the comforting notion that we’re almost through this.

That means that the themes and experiences of daily life in 2021 could potentially be much different than what we’ve been used to in recent months. And I think the emotional effects, like a sneaker wave in the surf, are going to surprise us. This is going to be the year of being blindsided by the emotional power of the ordinary. This is the year we shall be overcome.

That day when I get to hug my mom, maybe on her front porch or in some airport waiting area, I want to be open to the importance of that moment. And that’s almost certainly going to mean tears.

Imagine that playing out millions of times as people reconnect — without masks, flesh pressing to flesh — with moms and grandmas, dads and grandpas. Think of a daughter or a son you haven’t touched since the previous decade, or a granddaughter or grandson.

Think of the millions of babies born in the last year who have yet to be held by their grandparents, their aunts and uncles. Those are emotional moments anyway. But in the year after the pandemic, they’re going to be emotionally turbo-charged. Bittersweet will never feel so sweet.

Imagine attending a wedding — or, better yet, standing at the altar of a wedding — that was supposed to happen last summer, but didn’t. How are you going to get through your vows without soaking your rented tux with tears?

This year, we’re going to see funerals and memorials for people who died months before and the expressions of grief may be wholly unlike such an occasion under pre-pandemic circumstances.

But it’s not just the big landmark events in life that will carry extra emotional freight. The little ones will be nearly as poignant. I’m going to be verklempt at the first movie I see in the beautiful old Del Mar, the first show I catch at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

I’ll probably lose it the first time a waiter approaches my table without a mask, a cashier at Staff of Life wishes me a good day with an unmasked smile. You think there won’t be a hundred catches in a hundred throats when Santa Cruz Shakespeare opens the curtain on their first play before an in-person audience?

I can’t help but look forward to that first Giants game with 30,000 people in the stands, that first live concert surrounded by thousands of strangers, that first food festival standing in line for something yummy without the six-feet-apart markers on the ground.

Be aware of that first time you’re allowed to go into a supermarket without a mask, make eye contact with other shoppers, give them a quiet nod, acknowledge the moment. I dare you not to be moved.

Then, at the end of this coming-out-of-the-cave year, after so many of these firsts, maybe all those worn-out truisms and bromides — Stop and smell the roses, Live in the now, Enjoy every sandwich — will get some traction in these cynical times.

I could be wrong about all this stuff. We could be plunged right back into shutdown with some unforeseen development. Or we could emerge from the pandemic as jaded as when we entered it.

But I suspect there will come a day — maybe months down the road or maybe sooner than we think — when we’re all going to reminded that big joy comes only from lots of tiny joys stacked on top of each other. I suspect we’re all going to have to get used to those sneaker waves of emotion.

Just be prepared when that first hug of a loved one knocks you off your feet.

Or don’t. A few tears aren’t going to kill you.

Either way, after such a weird and awkward year, the tears will be earned.