It is May 2021, and this has been an extraordinary week.
On Tuesday, I shared a drink with 20 or 30 colleagues from work, all arrayed around a bar. This was the first time in 15 months that they hadn’t been flattened to two dimensions and stacked like shipping containers on my computer screen.
On Wednesday, I met three long-ago college friends for snacks at a brand-new restaurant overlooking the Potomac, three miles from my house. It seems that during the lockdown months, Alexandria, Virginia rebuilt its waterfront without our complete cognizance. Upon our arrival, we saw unmasked faces and were startled to realize that people still have noses, mouths, mustaches, teeth, and such.
On Thursday night, I took my wife to dinner at yet another new riverfront restaurant—this one perched atop a pier standing in the Potomac. After 15 months of eating at home, we had conversations with adjacent diners. And Zoom had no part in this drama.
Tonight, we’ll have dinner in the backyard of some neighbors. We might even see the inside of their house. We’ve socialized a number of times over the past 15 months, though before now, we were no more inclined to enter their house than we would have been to take a walking tour of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Plus, we swam three times this week at a community indoor swimming pool.
It does, indeed, feel as if the pandemic is lifting—that life is returning to normal. Or at least to a “new normal,” whatever that is. I’m not counting my chickens just yet. Overseas, COVID-19 is ravaging India and other countries. Quarantine restrictions remain in place in this country or that country. Viruses are among nature’s trickiest little contraptions, and this one—like all others—is conspiring to navigate its way around the best efforts of Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J. So far, the vaccines seem to be barring the doors quite effectively, but only time will tell.
As wonderful as this week has seemed, I choose at this juncture to channel Winston Churchill in 1942. In July of that year, Allied forces routed the German Army at El Alamein, in Egypt. British General Harold Alexander asked Churchill to “ring out the bells” in honor of this pivotal victory. But Churchill, anticipating dangers ahead, would offer no premature celebration and told a Lord Mayor’s luncheon, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
And that’s how I choose to view my extraordinary week: perhaps the end of the beginning of the pandemic. If things turn out better than I presume, then thank heaven for pleasant surprises.
Many things that seemed abnormal during the pandemic period will, no doubt, seem perfectly normal going forward. In recent weeks, I testified on the subject of telehealth before committees of the Arizona, Colorado, and Maine legislatures. I gave both written and oral testimony. And in all three cases, I did so without leaving the comfort of the office I have set up in my home.
Before 2020, the norm would have been for me, say, to hop a plane on Tuesday, fly across the country, spend the night in a hotel, sit for hours in the chambers of the legislative committee on Wednesday, speak for perhaps five minutes, return to my hotel, and then fly back to Northern Virginia on Thursday. For my employer, this cost would be in excess of $1,000—not to mention losing me for three adjacent workdays.
Under the new norm, I sat in my home office, logged into the legislative Zoom meeting, did work while waiting for my time to come up. Then, I spoke for five minutes and turned the computer off. The cost to my employer was zero. In a few years, the idea of spending three days in transit to give five minutes of testimony will seem as antediluvian as wooden teeth.
Winston Churchill was famous as a brandy drinker. As this marvelous week draws to a close, perhaps I shall take down a snifter, pour a bit, and toast the end of the beginning.
Good health to you all.