Yesterday I attended my first large event since last March. It was lovely – hundreds of people on the lawns of our local art museum enjoying a beautiful evening of music, good food and drink, and company.

I saw a dear friend I hadn’t seen in over 2 years across the grass. We both rushed into a warm hug. In the time since we’d last visited, she met a wonderful guy. As she introduced us, he stuck out his hand, and I felt a moment’s pause. “Are we shaking hands again?” said the voice in my head.

I’m vaccinated, and I’m not worried about social contact – intellectually, at least. But in that moment, I realized that the natural instincts I’ve had for a lifetime have been altered due to the isolation and real risks of the pandemic. My subconscious saw “friend” and immediately went for the hug. It saw “stranger,” and said, “Whoa there…”

Pre-pandemic Sarah was always the first with an outstretched hand. She was eager to engage with strangers and make them friends. Yesterday demonstrated that a part of me is still cocooned.

This contradiction surprised me and made me wonder in what other ways the pandemic changed me. And, I think we’re going to need to be patient and compassionate with ourselves and others as we ease back into the world. Not everyone is ready to shake hands or hug. In fact, some of us were always uncomfortable with that.

How will you greet people when you go back to the office? I’m hoping to find my naturally exuberant self once again. But I am fine with others following their instincts and think we all need to make space for that. If the past year has taught me anything, it’s that I will never be offended if someone declines to shake my hand. Neither should you.

Cheers to your career!

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