by Beth Dolinar, Contributing Writer
Maybe this is what a bear feels like when waking up after a long nap each spring. To me, it feels like I’ve been hibernating for two years, not so much asleep as tucked away from everything important to me.
This month will mark two years since I last put in a full day in my office at WQED, the public television station where I work as a producer and writer. When we left that day, we knew we would be away for awhile, but nobody thought it would be more than two years.
Zoom calls sustained us, and allowed me to keep working, producing a number of documentaries and plenty of shorter-form content. I think back to the first weeks of the pandemic lockdown, when our entire staff was out and about producing little videos with our phones. Eventually, we started to venture out with photographers and their gear, finding ways to safely tell stories. I didn’t mind wearing a mask while conducting interviews. What bothered me more was interviewing people who themselves were masked. I’m glad they did, for everyone’s safety, but a covered face shows little emotion or animation. If the masks have taught us anything, it’s that protecting oneself and others from the virus is a generous act that, ironically, disconnects us from each other.
The pandemic has taught me how resilient we all can be when we have to. My son lives in Los Angeles, where some of the country’s highest COVID rates and toughest restrictions kept him in a small apartment for weeks on end. When he started traveling again for work, he always had to have his mask and his guard up. It must have been exhausting.
One of my favorite moments from the past two years came in April 2020, when my daughter visited from college. I snapped her photo as she waved at me through the kitchen door, masked up and happy to be home. I put on my mask so I could hug her.
How refreshing it is to see the lower half of faces now—the smiles and the teeth and the way the whole face moves. How comforting to visit with my parents inside their house instead of out on the driveway.
I know we’re not completely out of the woods with this virus. When I go to the theater to see a musical in a couple of weeks, I’ll probably be wearing a mask, and I understand why. People are still getting sick.
But life feels a bit, I don’t know—maybe lighter these days. Like that first warm spring day when you don’t have to wear a jacket, and you drive with the windows open. It’s that feeling that a layer of darkness has been peeled away, revealing the real and happy parts.
In March of 2020, I got out my sewing machine and made some masks, cutting up old shirts. They were goofy-looking and probably not very protective. After that I ordered a few cloth ones, then bought some of the N95s. I’m guessing I’ve used up many dozens of masks. While driving to the grocery store this week, I saw my stash in the side door pocket and wondered if it might be time to put them away.
Not yet, I’m afraid. We’ve still got some covering-up to do, and maybe masks will always be with us in some way. But spring is finally here, and we finally can turn our faces to the sun.
Last week, while at the station to record some narration, I saw a co-worker for the first time since the shutdown began. I’d been used to seeing him on the Zoom screen. Seeing him in person was almost jarring.
“Hey,” I said as I peeled off my mask. He did the same.
“Nice to see your whole face,” I said, and I meant it.