Big reunion with the world

Last Thursday, the seemingly impossible happened: I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on campus. I started preparing a week before the event already, holding many brainstorming sessions regarding which top to wear with which boots, which bus to take, and to which standardized building inside the Utrecht Science Park. What snacks to pack, which stickers to scratch off of my computer, and which facemask to bring, or more importantly, which face to show on my big reunion with the world.

It has been more than a year since I unveiled any of my faces and I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about the meeting. What if the world doesn’t fancy what I wear that day? I can’t hide behind the carefully switched off camera of the digital classroom anymore. What if I arrive late and people actually notice that as not only I am physically visible, but the noise of my boots also echoes through the whole building. Click. Clack. Click. Clack. I am here.

The upcoming process of returning to the outside world entails a fusion of anxiety, worry, excitement, and uncertainty. First of all, no more lectures in bed with my favorite pajamas on and no more

“sorry, my mic is not working” and oh yeah, “my WiFi connection is unstable”. Secondly, the advent of a new variety of small talk is upon us, which starts with “sorry, I’ve kinda forgotten how to act around people and how to socialize and interact with them”. No worries, me too. It isn’t enough to like your comment on Teams? But I even considered giving it a heart…

We have been focusing on wearing a mask every day for months now, but who will pinpoint the masks we’ve developed underneath over this time? It has just been so long since the temporary restrictions started that restoring the habit of visiting the school’s bleak hallways means reprogramming yourself, almost acting as if this deadly pandemic had not even happened.

Now that the time to take our medical masks off is approaching, how difficult will it be to rid ourselves from the masks we carefully patchworked together deep inside? We’ve patchworked them from constant insecurity about the future, fear for our own and loved ones’ health, shame of forgetting to sanitize before entering your aunt’s garden, and physical and mental distance from everything that is social. Since social distancing has to be one of the most trending expressions of the past year, I wonder which will be easier: reducing those 1.5 meters in social settings or “undistancing” ourselves from who we used to be?