Last night we went out to dinner with a couple of friends and I experienced what for me are the worst and the best aspects of returning to society, all in the space of a few hours. Fortunately they occurred in that order.
We arrived at the restaurant they had suggested a few minutes after they did. We were, they said, second on the list for an outside table with a 20-30 minute wait time. We waited, unable to have any kind of conversation because of the noise level, watching people stream in and out of the front entrance. Some were masked, most weren’t.
After forty minutes or so I had to step out, and walked around the parking lot to clear my head. By the time I got to the lower level lot the music was loud instead of deafening and after a few minutes I made my way back to the foyer. Twenty minutes later our friend went in to ask about the delay in seating and was told there was a trivia game going on that wouldn’t end until nine or so, and many of the tables would remain occupied until that time. At that point we decided to give up on the possibility of an outside table, ordered our food to go, and followed our friends to their house nearby. We had a very pleasant meal and a couple of hours of equally pleasant conversation (which would have been impossible at the restaurant unless we were willing to shout).
The trip to the restaurant reminded me of many things I dislike about socializing, and my visit with my friends reminded me of the things I’ve been missing, the important connections that feed us and remind us of the value of human contact. I’m glad we bailed on the restaurant, and I’m wondering when or if I’ll be willing to put up with the crowds and the noise to share a meal with friends when all I really want to do is have the kind of conversation that flows from topic to topic, allows us to touch base with each other, laugh or commiserate, tell stories, and share our triumphs and setbacks both large and small with folks we care about and who care about us. That’s a big deal, and I think this past year or so has reminded us of how essential it is.