We asked our Oakland Voices alumni community members and correspondents: How has pandemic life changed your habits and your outlook? How have you navigated public spaces and health risks now that we are in a different stage of pandemic life? Below, Debora Gordon shares her perspective. Debora Gordon is a retired/rewired teacher, and continuing writer, artist and, of course, lake walker.
When I retired from full-time teaching in OUSD in June 2019 B.C. (Before COVID) and took a 12,000 mile roadtrip around the U.S and Canada, I had no idea how unique it would seem, freely roaming around at will. I experienced distant old and new friends and family warmly embracing me and inviting me into their homes, and staying in motels and AirBnB’s without wondering who might have slept there the night before and whether the room was thoroughly cleaned.
While I am now (mostly) happily “re-wired,” after an 18-month stint of part-time adult teaching after returning, I am in frequent touch with my still-teaching in K-12 classroom friends who daily confront the challenges of the COVID-19 teaching context, from school-provided (or not) masks and tests and Zoom teaching and hybrid and angry and/or frustrated parents. I wonder how I might have navigated it. Perhaps somewhat selfishly, I feel relieved that I am not there anymore, even though I do miss teaching. One of the best things to come out of this seemingly endless COVID experience is the foundational idea behind “My mask protects you; your mask protects me;” the idea that we are all responsible to behave in ways that offer love and support to each other.
Technologically, Zoom, even with all its attendant frustrations and limitations, has also allowed many people not only to work from their living rooms, but those living rooms (or bedrooms or kitchens or porches or cafes) can now be located anywhere. Anywhere on the planet. I have had a chance to Zoom with far-flung friends in other countries; and to teach adult students without having to worry about masking, let alone possibly spreading COVID, and, of course, that very short commute.
I am easing back into not wearing a mask on my daily walks, usually at Lake Merritt. Early in the mask-wearing phase of the pandemic, I noticed perhaps ⅔ of the lake walkers/runners wearing masks, though often incorrectly, and often just dangling them from an ear, or even a wrist or elbow. As time went on, at the height of the spread about six or seven months ago, most people were masked. But now, as we enter the 3rd year of COVID, I often walk without the mask, or only pull it up over my nose when I come within a few yards of someone; and it seems that only a small percentage of lake walkers are still masked. We give each other a wide berth as we pass.
I have also been meeting friends, all of whom are vaxxed and boosted, in cafes; sitting outdoors, avoiding greeting and parting hugs, as we used to exchange. We are cautious, but with awareness of each other’s status. On my birthday, I invited friends to join me for breakfast, lunch and dinner and two opted out after initially planning to join me; both were later diagnosed with COVID, so I appreciate their fine-tuned attention to the possibility.
Living alone and not working, and free to plan and spend my time based only on my own needs, COVID has had only limited impact on me personally: just the usual remembering to mask, and re-considering any situations that would be put in close contact with others, especially strangers. I keep my distance physically, but in some ways, phone, email, text and Zoom have increased my contact with friends, although I do miss larger gatherings where several of us might meet up.
The ongoing changes in COVID from the latest variants and sub-variants and their particularities, the endless revisions around masks and vaccines and their idiosyncratic demands, have not bothered me as much as the news reports about the public in general. I keep masks handy; a few in my car; in my purse; and easy to grab hanging on the front door knob as I leave my home. Even so, I occasionally forget to take one when about to enter a store and just reach into my bag or return to the car and grab one. It is not a big deal, and an inconvenience of such minimal impact that while I will be glad to bid COVID a less than fond farewell when it finally is demoted to endemic, I am mostly grateful to not (so far!) have contracted it, and consider it, above all, a learning experience; not only about the disease itself, but how we, as individuals, communities, societies and the world, respond to its range of threats. It has been eye-opening, and I think all of us, no matter what we believe, have learned a lot.