The day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced that persons fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could go back to pre-pandemic behaviors, my family was driving up to Flagstaff with a box of American-made, FDA-approved surgical masks to give guests at our son’s wedding.
The announcement was both cause for celebration and confusion. Celebration because more than half our guests were fully vaccinated, and confusion because there were about 40 unvaccinated adults and kiddos coming.
There was no way guests would be ignorant of the CDC’s proclamation, which meant people would be keeping their masks in their jeans’ pocket, not over their face — including the unvaccinated. Would the fact that everything was outdoors in a windy forest be enough to keep COVID — the definitive wedding crasher — from ruining everything?
During the four-hour drive north, we decided to trust it would be.
We could still insist on masks during the actual wedding ceremony because everyone would be in one place at one time, so enforcing mask-wearing was possible. That was also the only time the vaccinated and unvaccinated would be close together longer than 10 minutes. But the rest of the time? We had to rely on the vaccines, the wind and the guests’ good judgment.
Luckily, it worked. No illness resulted from the wedding or plane rides to said wedding, according to the follow-up we did with guests 14 days after the event.
This coronavirus-postponed celebration was an intensive do-it-yourself affair due to the fact that our son, Evan, is an engineer and his new wife, Kathleen, has a Pinterest account. It was fabulous. It was also — as most DIY affairs are — a lot of work. A lot.
Yet, exhausted as we were when the last table was broken down and the final decorations crammed back into boxes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat because it was phenomenal to feel “normal” after more than a year of in a pandemic. As Evan’s brother said in his reception speech, “Let us thank the newlywed couple for giving us all a reason to leave our house to celebrate in person after a year of isolation away from much of what we love.”
About 63 percent of weddings planned for 2020 were postponed to 2021, according to the annual Brides Magazine American Wedding Survey. Evan and Kathleen’s original date was August 2020, but by June of that year they announced a rescheduling for this May.
Half the original 200 guests sent regrets by March because, at that time, it was still difficult to get vaccinated. We bought the box of masks and Evan sent out a detailed email to attendees about COVID mitigation rules for the event.
Then, faster than you can say “I do,” vaccines opened up. By May 1, we knew that about 60 guests were fully vaccinated. It wasn’t the vaunted herd immunity of 75%, but it was darn close. Plus: masks at ceremony, reception tables 6-feet apart, outside in the wind.
The transition from isolation to “Hey! Give me a hug, you adorable human being!” was jarring, to say the least. As people approached me with wide smiles and open arms, I recited an internal mantra to calm reentry anxiety: “You’re vaccinated, you’re vaccinated, you’re vaccinated.”
It didn’t take long for those hugs to bring me healing. One young woman, all grown up from when I knew her as a little girl, gave the best embraces, and I unabashedly went back to her fully-vaccinated self over and over, like a starving person at a buffet, asking for more. She was happy to oblige and it was magnificent.
The wedding video shows me in the front row at the ceremony, wiping away tears as Evan and Kathleen recite vows demonstrating their love, and yet it feels unreal. Did I actually go from surviving in a small family pod for 14 months to this intimate, almost-normal thriving in a large group? Is this what the future holds?
I hope so. I also hope that we never forget that post-pandemic glory comes on the back of great suffering in families who lost someone to COVID, and medical professionals who endured unending stress trying to save thousands of lives.
And I hope when we’re out there enjoying “normal,” we remember it was brought to us by selflessness, science, first-world privilege and the willingness of so many people to pull together for the common good. Let us be happy, but never forget to be grateful.
Published Sunday, June 13 on the Arizona Daily Star opinion page.