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  • Fran Braga Meininger

A Reluctant Reentry


I was in grade school when we landed a team of astronauts on the moon. I remember it vividly, as I imagine most people do who were alive that day. I was further indoctrinated into the space program when my father was temporarily assigned to NASA to help design and fabricate the flotation device for one of the Apollo capsules.

I heard lots of space talk over the dinner table and although I was far more into horses, rock and roll and boys, my father did his best to interest me. Not an easy task, but some of it sunk in. I remember the term reentry, and the explanation of what the crew went through to prepare to come back to this world, and their lives, after a life altering experience of epic proportions. I found that intriguing, even as a young girl. I wondered how they could ever explain what they experienced to those with whom they shared a life, how they could ever be comfortable and integrate fully again into what used to be enough to be satisfied. I wondered about their dreams, their nightmares, having lived through days of an uncertain journey where humans had never been.

I think I understand a bit more now. Not that I’ve ever had an experience remotely comparable, but after nearly four months of isolation from a global pandemic, the likes of which has never before descended on humankind, I have an inkling.

Our lives were touched, altered, transformed in varying degrees depending on how close we came to the insidious virus and how vulnerable we felt to its risk. Minimally, we were plucked from our normal, work life, social activities and forced to adapt to being isolated from others. We watched in horror as the scenes flashed before our eyes, trying to comprehend what was happening here and around the world. There was no escaping the reality of overwhelmed hospitals, health care workers and funeral homes struggling to keep pace. We bore witness to the grief and inconceivable loss of strangers, acquaintances, family and friends. As we huddled in our homes, sifting through confusing and, at times, conflicting information, we put our faith in whatever form of spirituality served us, because we knew this was bigger than us, and we would need divine intervention. We were scared, frustrated, disoriented and left in a state of suspended reality that felt amorphous and unfamiliar as any form of normal.

And it’s not over. We’ve transitioned into another stage, acceptance. We know this virus is here for a time. We don’t know how long, but we can’t just wait, postponing lives and livelihoods. The world needs to come out of hiding, always cognizant that there is a very real threat drifting through the air, that if we aren’t ever vigilant could do us great harm. So, we balance the risk with the benefit and we consider – reentry.

The thought of it clenches my stomach. I feel inadequately grounded to keep my balance if life picks up speed too quickly. I’m still reeling and slightly off center. I don’t seem to be able to process information or react as I did several months ago, nor do I feel I have the defenses adequate to protect myself in the company of anyone but my most trusted friends and family. I feel vulnerable. I’ve even used that term when trying to help some who wish to move us back to a wide open, back to normal world. I’ve tried to explain, I’m one of those who is vulnerable to this virus and I am trying my best to take care of myself, but I need them to understand, they have a role in protecting me too. Me, and hundreds of thousands of others, like me, who are strong, brave and ambitious, but because of a gene are susceptible to a severe case, one that could be potentially fatal.

Unfortunately, that has become a source of division, nationally and even between friends. So, in addition to a virus changing my life, I now have shifting relationships because of it. At a time when I feel so disconnected and disoriented, that is an uncomfortable reality.

So, like those astronauts my father told me about decades ago, I will now commence with my own reentry, a delicate and carefully staged operation which, over time, will bring me back to a fully engaged and healthy life, lived mindful of how the decisions I make now will affect my future. I will do my best to preserve the friendships that mean so much to me, even though they may have been stressed by this pandemic. I will be patient with others and especially patient with myself as I go gradually and reluctantly into what comes next.

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