I was so excited when I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine last winter. After months of stress at work and at home, hoping that my PPE would protect me from the coronavirus and wondering whether this would be the day that I’d inadvertently and unknowingly bring the virus home and infect my family, I could breathe a little easier knowing that I had darn good protection against the virus.

What a miracle that less than a year into the pandemic, we had not one, but several, incredibly effective and safe vaccines to choose from.

As lucky as I felt to have this tiny miracle injected into my body, I have to admit that the days and weeks that followed were a little anti-climactic.

It feels great to be vaccinated, I told a friend who was looking forward to his own vaccine appointment, but it’s not like I’m changing my behavior. I still had to wear PPE at work, I still wore a mask into the grocery store, I still felt safer socializing outside rather than inside, and I wasn’t about to fly anywhere on a plane.

I certainly could have done some of these things, from getting on a plane to going maskless while running errands, but I wasn’t quite ready.

As the months went by, I did return to restaurants — first outdoors, then indoors — and I’ve experimented with taking my mask off while inside stores. But the return to a feeling of normalcy has been incremental rather than dramatic, and some of the risks don’t feel worth taking right now.

For better or worse, I’ll wear my mask inside stores and during staff meetings partly for the reduced risk of transmission, but mostly because going maskless triggers my brain to think about whether the increased risk of exposure is worth the relief of going without my mask. All that thinking makes my head hurt. It’s simply worth the big reduction in stress to keep the mask on and stop my brain from trying to figure out such a difficult equation.

After waiting all these months for a chance to feel relieved and for a dramatic change in lifestyle, it finally came last week when my son and daughter received their first doses of the vaccine. At the vaccine clinic in my town there were balloons and prizes, a magician and a giant Connect Four game. The mood was upbeat, and for good reason. Once my kids are fully vaccinated, I’ll worry so much less about the possibility of bringing the virus home with me and infecting them, or whether they’ll catch it from a classmate.

As for the change in lifestyle, we’ll finally be free to travel out of state without the children having to quarantine before returning to school. This comes at the perfect time of year, just in time to visit far-off relatives for Christmas. Here now is the rush of relief I was looking for last winter, the excitement of knowing that we are all well-protected and we can all do things in a way that feels normal again.

We’ll be free to sit in traffic, free to navigate jammed highways, free to jostle through crowded rest areas, and free to hug loved ones we haven’t hugged in a long time. I can’t wait.

BILL ZUCK hasn’t jostled anyone in a long time. You can reach him at wcz78@yahoo.com.

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