One afternoon in early April, I sat on my front porch and reveled in the sunshine. The thermometer had nudged 60 degrees. In July, I’d be donning an extra sweater at 60, but after weeks of below 30-degree temperatures, it felt positively balmy.

I had my current book, and a cup of tea, but, for awhile, I just sat. And thought about how much I enjoy sitting outside.

This wasn’t exactly news. As soon as the weather turns warm, I spend as much time as possible on the porch, or the back deck. I do enjoy outdoor activities, including gardening, but I’ve known for a long time there is something special about just sitting in the fresh air.

Still, I was surprised by the intensity of my feeling. I thought, “It’s because of the pandemic.”

Getting outside became so important during the darkest days in 2020. Museums, movies and restaurants were off-limits. My husband, Paul, and I spent many days that summer driving to scenic locations to walk or hike and eat our packed lunch on a beach or in a picnic area. Then we might sit around and people-watch or read.

I would often marvel that while I was working from home, and going to the supermarket early in the morning to avoid crowds, and getting takeout instead of eating in, I could still enjoy the great outdoors. I could be free there.

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Sitting on my deck, watching the antics of the backyard squirrels, was a release from all the time spent inside the house. Hiking and picnicking gave me a rare opportunity to be in the company of others.

That lack of human contact during the restricted times was hard — and I’m an introvert. I quickly realized how much I enjoyed eating out because it gave me a chance to people-watch. Sometimes, I’d run into old friends or acquaintances in the restaurant. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought my chief interest in eating out was the break it gave me from cooking. That’s no small thing, but what I really crave is a convivial atmosphere.

I was so thrilled to get back to eating indoors in restaurants last June, but then the virus started rearing its ugly head again. Luckily, it was summer and Maine is chockablock with outdoor dining, whether it be by the side of the road or the Atlantic Ocean.

Paul and I still aren’t back to eating indoors at full-service restaurants. But, we have eaten in the kinds of places where you pick up your food at the counter and sit down. If it’s not crowded. Yeah, we’re pretty persnickety. I’ve found if we order takeaway, we can make our decision based on the situation as it exists at the very moment we get our food. If a crowd suddenly arrives, we can be out the door.

It turns out that the humblest of dining-out experiences can bring me joy. Paul and I recently dropped into a Dunkin’ for a snack. A man who appeared to be in his 80s was sitting with a young woman in her 20s. As I sipped my iced coffee, I speculated they were grandfather and granddaughter. They talked avidly, catching up on each other’s news, perhaps?

Another elderly gentleman sat down. He seemed frail, plus he was alone, and I felt a wave of sympathy for him. Then, he took out an electronic book reader on a stand. He read while he ate. First appearances can be deceiving. This guy was right with the times — and filled his time wisely, as well.

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An upbeat song came on the radio and I did a little dance in my seat, waving my fingers, much to Paul’s bemusement. I then noticed grandpa had stood up and put on a leather jacket. He was swaying to the song. The young woman had gone to the counter to pick up some items to go, and when she came back and saw him, she started laughing.

Simple scenarios that make me smile.

I am looking forward to having leisurely meals in cozy restaurants again. But the pandemic has also taught me I don’t want to get sick. Of course, I don’t want to get COVID-19. But I don’t want the flu, either. No stomach viruses, thank you. I don’t even want to catch a cold. One of the plus sides of wearing a mask is that I have gone (and I’m knocking on wood here) for two years without catching any communicable diseases. I’m completely willing to wear a mask in situations that I think warrant it.

Right now, that’s mainly at the supermarket or other large stores where there are crowds of people. If I go into a small store or cafe, I usually bring my mask, just in case.

Better safe than sorry, is the way I look at it. I am grateful for the insights the pandemic has given me, because otherwise it’s been one long, hard slog.

We may not be at the end of it yet, but life is better now. I know that for sure as I sit on my porch and revel in the sunshine.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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