A View from the Hill: Make the cicada your spirit animal

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I seldom visit Facebook, but the other day I had a quick errand on the app and couldn’t help looking around.

I was surprised to see that people I know simply had popped out of COVID life as if nothing had happened and went on their merry way.  Here we are on the beach in St. John! Look at us hiking in Moab! Greetings from the Adirondacks! Ain’t life grand!

I, on the other hand, have been very slow to pivot. I’ve been fully vaccinated for weeks, but I feel utterly disoriented. In the depth of the lockdown, I couldn’t wait to get out once I was free to do so. Now I’m not sure exactly where out is.

I had planned to immediately hit the road when the time came, making the circuit around New England to visit family and friends. I haven’t driven more than 20 miles. 

“When are you coming to visit?” my daughter asks. “How about Saturday? A week from Saturday?” 

“Uh, I don’t know. Soon.”

I can’t commit to resuming weekly bowling with my friend Bud. I can’t commit to restarting in-person book group. (But then, nobody else seems willing to commit to that either.)

I feel as if I have one foot in the pandemic and another somewhere else in some strange new and slightly different but not that different world.

Why can’t I be more like those Brood X cicadas that everyone is talking about? After 17 years underground with nothing but roots and dirt for company they emerge en masse into a fine spring day, make directly for the nearest tree, climb, make noise. Done.

They don’t wallow in confusion and question everything and wander around aimlessly as if waking from anesthesia. They put their little heads down and do what needs to get done.

Working with a group of young volunteers recently, I overheard them talking about trips they planned or had already taken. I told them I couldn’t seem to put one foot in front of the other after just a year in semi-lockdown, heaven forbid 17 like the cicada.

“We all have our personal comfort levels,” one of them consoled me.” “There’s no hurry.” 

Well, yes and no. I’m 70.

The next day I saw a headline in The New York Times: “Plan your life again, but keep it simple.”

The Times called my problem future block: “Being unable to envision what your goals are after a period when you could put off major decisions, or were forced to.”

The Times asked Jason Farman, a media scholar at the University of Maryland, about the syndrome. “Each day feeling the same causes a weird speeding up and slowing down of time,” he said, which is why it feels like March 2020 happened both eons ago and last week. “It’s very disorienting.”

Truly.

And really, I don’t think it’s just me. I walked with my teenage grandson along the Eastern Prom on Sunday morning. Lots of people are were out on the warm morning, playing softball, chatting, buying from the food trucks.

Something was off. We both commented on how oddly everyone seemed to be behaving. Some were masked, some weren’t. Many appeared shell-shocked and bewildered. Others walked aimlessly at a very slow shuffle. There didn’t seem to be much joy, except among the kids eating ice cream.

Maybe it’s just too soon to expect the normalcy we all craved over the last year. After all, this thing is far from over. And in too many countries it’s raging. That’s scary.

Shelby Bernstein may have put her finger on it when she told the Los Angeles Times, “Maybe it’s like the Stockholm syndrome, except our captor is the coronavirus. We’re all so used to the mental and physical havoc it wreaked upon us that any sense of normalcy feels wrong.”

A study by the American Psychological Association found that whether fully vaccinated or not, 49 percent of Americans are “uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends.” They “do not feel comfortable going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic.”

That’s certainly the way it looked among the Eastern Prom crowd on Sunday.

But as uncomfortable as these people appeared, experts say they were doing the right thing by venturing out. They were practicing “exposure therapy.”

Writing in The Washington Post, clinical psychologist Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco said, “As we resume ‘normal’ life, we will have to relearn even simple skills that we haven’t used in more than a year.”

Like interacting with people on a crowded sidewalk.

Hey, if the cicadas can figure it out, so can we.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.