When the lights went out on the world in March 2020, I was relieved. It felt like a do-over. At the time, I was reading Sy Montgomery’s “The Soul of an Octopus,” and I started to feel like one—aquatic and solitary, attuned but removed. When everyone in New York City leaned out their windows at 7 o’clock every night to cheer and bang pots, I floated back into the corner of my tank, where I stayed for months.
The part of me that luxuriated in solitude is the same part that is now resisting the tug of the world as many parts swing their doors open again. Maybe, if we’re being honest, there’s a little wiggle of worry about what happens next.
But whether you’re dragging your feet—or perhaps desperate to get out again—you’ll be fine. You’ll be even better than you think. Here’s how I know:
1. You didn’t forget.
It makes for a funny comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live: The awkward couples at a BBQ, saying all the wrong things. But I trust in your ability to communicate, and so should you. Linguistics experts say that you don’t “lose” language that fast. There are complicating factors, like if you’re also trying to learn another language. Did you spend the past year fully immersed in Swahili or Old Norse? Me neither.
If I took your phone away for a year, you’d need all of one minute to remember where everything was when I gave it back. And you aren’t hardwired to use an iPhone. You have had decades of practice being human, however. You had it pretty much figured out at age seven. And you didn’t lose it while you binged two seasons of The Crown.
2. We weren’t really cut off.
We had the internet—a wireless umbilical cord through which we suck an unceasing and simultaneous feed. We all know when a celebrity dies, what the president just said, and the latest on who Jennifer Lopez is dating. We may not have crammed into bars and restaurants this year, but we basically all had the same dreams, sponsored by Netflix/Hulu/Amazon/HBO.
Consider the wars, plagues, and suffering that many parts of the world are still enduring. Not to understate the severity of this virus, but it’s been ONE YEAR. And while our lives changed dramatically, most of us did not lose all access to electricity and collective knowledge.
3. You got even better at communicating.
I don’t know about those new TV commercials showing us shaggy and unshorn, running out of our house to talk to people again, but most of us didn’t have the luxury of not talking to people or doing our jobs. Zoom exhausted us because of the incredible demand it put on us to ensure that our messages were heard. That is some skill. You worked hard at it—and it shows.
4. You have more options (including “no”).
Now that you know what it is to do NOTHING, every opportunity to do something is simply that: an opportunity. We now know we can die of many things, but not boredom. If anything, this sharpens our decisions and requires that we rejoin the world intentionally. And I intend to be pretty choosy. No one said that just because many parts of the world are open, we now have to spend every second out there.
5. You have an appetite now.
There’s a reason why I don’t eat sushi too regularly—and it’s not about the mercury. It’s because it’s too expensive to take for granted. I know when it’s time to eat it again because I crave it specifically. It’s not a tuna sandwich; it’s special.
In the past year, we’ve all built up a healthy appetite for company. And we’re more likely to enjoy it, the way a meal tastes better when you’re hungry. Maybe we took each other for granted before. But now, it’s different. Whether you are able to go back out there now or hopefully will soon, not only will you be able to rise to that occasion at the time; you will savor it.