As a card-carrying member of the “evil news media,” I can testify that my profession ranks near the bottom of public opinion. Between “Guy with leaky bucket who will pave your driveway for a thousand bucks if you pay in advance” and “TV preacher who will mail you a vial of holy water if you send $273 to help buy a new jet.”

I understand. My profession is tainted by cable and network fear-mongering commentators masquerading as journalists. And even the reputable news reporters make our heads spin by reporting actual facts: one week, they tell us the pandemic is on the ropes, like a tired boxer on his last legs. The following week, the virus has made a miraculous comeback, gaining energy thanks to a new strain, a variant with undetermined force. These news folks are merely sharing the information made available to them by the higher-ups in government and science. If the doctors warn us to be cautious for safety’s sake, you wouldn’t want that to be covered up, right?

Still, it’s no wonder that our heads are spinning. What can we safely do, where can we go, and when can we get there?

The short answer: Nobody knows. So I’m seeking all signs of normalcy from the lives we led before March of 2020. When I check all of the following items off my list, you’ll know we have arrived.

  • When my neighborhood Ace Hardware store cranks up the free popcorn machine. Free scoops for all!
  • When it is back to being a fun spreader, and not a potential virus spreader, it will be time to celebrate.
  • When we don’t have to wear a mask all day at work. After 20 months, I still forget the mask more than I should. I long for the day when the authorities say, “You may put your mask away.”
  • When restaurants and other retailers can relax their mask regulations, so we may again see the smiling faces of servers, cashiers, and customers. The world is so much brighter when illuminated by smiles.
  • When I can look forward to flying. Thankfully, I have not had to board an airplane during the pandemic, so I have avoided the tight quarters, the delays, and the adult toddlers who throw tantrums when asked to respect the safety of others.
  • When we can end “virtual” fund-raising events. The same goes for work meetings and family reunions. I get it, we can do amazing things with technology, and many folks enjoy working from home. But I’m over it. I want to see you, look you in the eyes, and hug you, without anyone flinching in fear.
  • When all the buffets reopen. Sure, it was always a health risk, with a flimsy sneeze guard, and sticky-fingered kids. But I will enjoy taking my chances again.
  • When the “sample ladies” are back in the supermarkets. I could sometimes enjoy half a meal while roaming the aisles. Wanna try this new cereal? You bet! How about a mini Steak’umm sandwich? Don’t mind if I do. Hostess has a new cupcake? You don’t have to ask me twice! Want to wash it all down with a little Sunny D? Why yes, thank you. I’ll bet some people even put on a ball cap and a different jacket and go back for seconds. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
  • When I can cough or sneeze in public, without people looking at me as if I have just infected the entire zip code. People used to say “Bless you” when they heard a sneeze. Now they grab their bags and kids, and head for the next county.
  • When we can pass the communion trays in church again. As a kid, I would envy those who participated in this communal experience, with zero fear. No matter your feelings on religion, this traditional celebration made us feel like one. It was a form of spiritual nourishment. It is another one of our comforts that has been taken away.
  • When we can again invite family and friends to holiday gatherings, with no fears or questions about who’s vaccinated and who’s not, or which side of the political fence they are on. I long for the days when we didn’t know, and we didn’t care.
  • When we can put away the plexiglass.
  • When retailers and restaurants are fully staffed, and we can shop and dine in around the clock.
  • Finally, when we can accompany our ailing loved ones on visits to the doctor’s office, or during hospital stays, with no limits. Whether it’s a newborn child, or an elderly relative saying their last goodbye, family members should be present. We have missed so much.

We aren’t there yet. But I have faith that we are getting there.

(David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley,” available at ChattanoogaRadioTV.com.You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or RadioTV2020@yahoo.com)

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