just like that, we’re back to normal. Or at least normal-ish. And also just like that, we find ourselves remembering en masse that normal, if we’re completely honest, wasn’t altogether awesome.
I don’t know about you, but for me the sudden lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in late May brought a mix of conflicting emotions. Yes, of course, there was relief. Gone in an instant was the miasma of worry and uncertainty that had hung over us for so long like the gray of a Michigan winter. Then there was the almost subversive joy of walking maskless into a Meijer — it felt a little like skinny-dipping. There was the thrilling confusion upon seeing a professional acquaintance extend a hand as we met for an in-person lunch. Shake it? Don’t shake it? Kind of a work-world version of the first-date kiss conundrum. And overall, it just felt damn good to know we’d made it to the other side of our 15-month-long tightrope walk. Yay, us!
But then came the reality of normal. Normal, for many of us, means returning to work. In an actual workplace. No more 15-foot commute to the “office.” No more tossing in a load of laundry between Zoom calls. Normal means wearing shirts with buttons and pants with zippers. Normal means making small talk in the lunch room. It’s fighting traffic on I-75. And crowds of humans who make you long for a bit of social distance. Being cooped up at home suddenly doesn’t sound so bad. Pandemic nostalgia — it’s a weird but real phenomenon.
But let me get off my cynic’s soapbox and focus on the positives. The unfolding return to normal is an unequivocally good thing for people who’ve been kept for too long from doing what they love most — people like Motown great Martha Reeves. When I spoke to her back in April, with pandemic restrictions still in place but light at the end of the tunnel, Reeves had just booked her first live performance — a gig in Mississippi — in more than a year and couldn’t have been more thrilled. The pandemic, she told me, had been a real blow for someone who has spent most of her 80 years in front of fans. At a time when we’re rapidly losing the divas of her era, Jim McFarlin writes in this month’s cover story, it’s more important than ever that we celebrate this hometown heroine who’s still going strong.
Also eager to get back to what they love are three Michigan Olympians whose stories we first told last September, after the 2020 Olympic Games had been postponed. As I write this, the rescheduled Tokyo games are expected to begin as planned later this month, but with COVID-19 still raging in Japan, there’s a chance these Olympians’ already-delayed dreams could be deferred once again.
And, lest we the grumbling masses feel too sorry for ourselves, let’s remember that normal hasn’t returned for everyone — around the world or even here at home. As our piece about the still-closed Canadian border shows, life remains abnormal for metro Detroiters whose relationships extend across the river.
They’ll have to wait a little longer, it seems, to enjoy the mixed blessings of our new-old reality.