Yesterday I met a new friend. We connected through a mutual friend and immediately hit it off. For some reason, though she lives on the north end of town and I live in the south end, we decided to meet in the middle, in person instead of doing a phone call or Zoom. I’m so glad we did.
At the cafe where we met there was a sweet backyard patio where we plopped down in the shade, masked at first like we always are. Once we sat down at our tiny two-top we tentatively removed our masks.
“I’m fully vaccinated,” my new friend said with a little bit of a question mark. She was saying it and also wondering if that was enough for me. Was I okay without the masks if she was fully vaccinated? She was also asking me what my situation was?
“Me too,” I said, wrapping up the issue and sending the message that we were on the same team and all was well.
We proceeded to have a glorious, maskless, new friend celebration. My new friend was interesting, curious, attentive, funny, and genuine. We talked for almost two hours and then said goodbye, knowing we’d surely meet again.
It was a sunny day and I walked the five miles back to my house along the lake. I felt like a bunny who’d just found a bottomless patch of all-season carrots. It was warm and I was sweating. My shoes, not meant for walking, were giving me blisters and I had to pee. But I hopped along mile after mile. I found a public bathroom along the way and breathed through my blisters. Nothing could take away the joy I felt in that moment.
I thought about why that experience elicited such profound joy for me. My new friend was engaging and delightful and we had a definite connection but there was more to it.
This friendship date was my first social experience where I actually felt the possibility of a future without COVID being center stage. From the moment we decided to meet in person instead of from the safety of a device, we’d crossed an imaginary line. We silently affirmed to each other that we were ready to try this.
Then, once seated, we both “came out” with our vaccination status. That was the next step of acknowledgment that there were better days ahead, that we were safe with each other. We were on the same page about vaccinations and we were ready to be in community with other people who felt the same way.
I’ve come out as gay hundreds of times. The best feeling in the world is to come out to someone and then they come out too!!! This happened in my last job, a totally remote position where my team only met on our laptops. We never once came face to face with each other. On a phone call to one of my teammates, she mentioned her wife.
“Oh my god!” my heart leaped in my chest, “she’s gay!” A few minutes later in the conversation, feeling a deep sense of safety and camaraderie, I mentioned my wife. That sense of mutuality was like winning bonus bucks in Vegas. Not only had my colleague traversed a scary obstacle, but she had made space for me to do the same!
The confluence of factors yesterday — that this new friend had amazing energy and vitality, that we were sitting outside, that we had lots to talk about — combined with the jubilation of coming out as vaccinated made for an afternoon of pure gratitude, joy, and hope.
I remember when gay marriage passed in 2015, there was the flicker of possibility everywhere. I felt hope and support from everyone, even if I never spoke to them. Walking down the street felt different. It felt safer, like we were all on the same team. And I feel this sense now, with vaccinations. I don’t know who is pro-vaccination and who is con. But I know that there are people who believe in a different kind of future, a future beyond COVID. And that feels incredible.