Lately, our theme seems to be “almost normal.” My kids have started going back to in-person orchestra rehearsals, which is “normal” by pre-pandemic standards while being infused with pandemic modifications: everyone wears special masks to allow them to play their instruments while still being masked, brass instruments use bell covers, woodwinds—including the bassoons—have their instruments in special bags with elasticized holes for their hands, the doors and windows of the rehearsal space are wide open and the fans are on high so the students have clips to hold their music down in the wind. I’m teaching in person, all of us distanced and wearing masks (I double-mask since I calculate that I’m the biggest contagion threat to my too-young-to-be-vaccinated students) and reserving the last five minutes of class to disinfect our desks and chairs.
I find that there’s a way of adjusting for covid precautions, keeping the awareness in place in the background while letting the reality of the situation slip away from my consciousness. It’s strange to be double-masked and teaching to a room full of masked students and forget for two hours that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. Later I have to remind myself that letting go of that acute worry doesn’t decrease the effectiveness of the safety precautions—similar to when I fly and get nervous if I forget to be nervous, as though my anxiety is what’s keeping the laws of physics on my side—but in the moment, it’s a pleasant break.
Maybe that’s the “new normal”: not going back to how things were before, but incorporating precautions into doing some of the same things we used to do. Just like I put on my seat belt when I get in the car and then don’t think about it again, just like I have my annual physical but don’t keep the anxiety of a possible unpleasant diagnosis in the front of my mind all the time, maybe the way to deal with this pandemic is just to put the safety measures in place and then forget about them while I live my life.
Of course, this also means being aware of the actions of others and adjusting my precautions as necessary, like choosing to do in-person music lessons with the instructor who is vaccinated and has precautions in place and keeping lessons virtual with unvaccinated instructors and/or those who don’t enforce masking or air filtering or other safeguards. And it means being ready for illness should the safeguards fail and readjusting our safeguards in the face of new information. This kind of calculation wasn’t in my five-year plan, but I feel cautiously ready for the challenge.