“Reentry” has become shorthand for life after Covid. We thought everything would return to 2019-style normal with the arrival of the vaccine. Schools would reopen. We could root for our favorite sports teams – in person. We could see movies in a real theater instead of the living room couch. Broadway lights would be relit. We could eat in restaurants again, shop in stores without fear. We could worship together again and attend large gatherings like weddings and funerals.
As expected, everything did begin to open up. But then the Delta variant struck, and once again hospitals are overwhelmed, unvaccinated people are dying, and breakthrough infections are slowing reentry down. Masks are back, at least for indoor functions.
And it’s not just Covid. Since 2019 phrases like “Black lives matter” and “white privilege” entered the lexicon. Climate change is torching our forests, flooding cities, and shredding houses, schools, and churches with tornados that just keep coming. Hurricanes, droughts, and melting icebergs are creating massive migrations of human refugees.
Nobody feels safe. Almost daily we have to reinvent how we worship, earn, learn, get medical care, and live in peace with neighbors who don’t look like us. “Reentry” is forcing us to also reinvent our individual lives.
You can wear a lot of hats by the time you reach my age. I’d been a stay-at-home mom fourteen years when I became a law student at age thirty-six. I was a lawyer at forty, then a federal tax judge for sixteen years. While I was on the bench my late husband Jerry and I were ordained and both served – at separate times – as volunteer co-pastors of a small multicultural faith community in Washington, DC. When I retired from the court in 2002 I became a mediator and nonprofit organizer.
These identities were all primarily chosen.
But our agency is limited by the seeming randomness of life. Some reinventions are thrust on us by life events. Jerry chose to finish college and join the U.S. Secret Service. But he became a national hero when he saved President Reagan’s life on March 30, 1981. This is an example of reinvention as improv.
When Jerry died in 2015 I became a widow. My new identity was neither chosen nor unexpected. Life events – like retirement or sickness or family tragedies – happen that we can’t control. These reinventions are what I call necessities.
Now it seems to me that’s where current events have brought us. To a smaller or greater degree, we are all reinventing ourselves in response to the historical changes at play now, whether we think of them as necessities or improv. The question is to what extent will we choose to direct the flow of our lives, even if we can’t choose the circumstances?