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Adapting — necessary, but all for the best?

It’s strange how we can adapt to such big changes in such a short time.

As I pulled up in front of my home a few days ago, a neighbor a few doors down was also pulling in to park. As I climbed out of my car, I raised my hand to greet her, not knowing how long she would remain in her car before going into her house.

Before I had my car door closed, Grace was exiting her vehicle. She also waved and called out to me: “Hi, Jenny. How are you?” She paused, then followed up with a concerned, “Are you well?”

I immediately knew what she meant. Grace and her husband have lived on the opposite side of our street for so long that I don’t remember who lived there before they did. She still calls me “Jenny,” which people who know me as a child always do. She even refers to my oldest brother as “Stevie,” which even I haven’t done in decades.

What Grace wanted to know, I feel certain, was whether COVID-19 had touched me or anyone in my family. She has always been a kind, considerate and caring neighbor, and I appreciated her concern.

Thankfully, I was able to respond that we were all well and getting by, just like everyone else.

I asked how she and her family were doing and was happy to hear that they, too, were OK. But that exchange made me realize it had literally been months since I had spoken to Grace. I don’t believe that’s been the case at any other time in my life except when I was away for weeks at a time attending college.

As I stood on the porch looking around the neighborhood, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen most of my neighbors since about Thanksgiving. I do cross paths with Grace’s next-door neighbor, Dwayne, as we both come and go, and we usually wave without speaking.

Between the pandemic and the cool winter weather, my neighborhood has become somewhat of a ghost town. And, unfortunately, I had actually gotten used to that. I come and go as needed for work or for trips out to buy necessities, then I spend most of my time inside the house, usually working in my little office.

I actually enjoyed shoveling snow a couple of times in recent days, simply because it meant I was spending time outdoors.

What a contrast to this time a year ago! Throughout the holidays, in 2019 and early 2020, I was able to celebrate with my brothers, nephews and nieces as well as my husband’s entire family. I attended a community Christmas tree lighting and spent the evening at my next-door neighbor’s house, enjoying holiday treats and the company of her whole family as well.

A year ago I was busily working on grant applications for the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing and attending board meetings and activities on site.

Almost exactly a year ago, I made two trips to Columbus — one for the Associated Press’s annual media day with lawmakers and the governor and another to attend the Ohio News Media Association’s annual conference.

A couple of weeks later I came down with an illness that would scare me to death if I had those same symptoms today. From that point forward, everything changed.

I don’t know what illness I actually had. It may have been the flu; it had many of the symptoms of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, no tests for that illness that has claimed more than 400,000 lives was available at that time. A couple of months later, my doctor said I was still suffering from inflammation from a past battle with a virus, but she assured me I was no longer infected and could improve my lingering symptoms with a few simple treatments.

The worst of my symptoms occurred on a scheduled day off and over the subsequent weekend. I didn’t miss a single day of work. That would be unthinkable today.

That, and seemingly everything else, has since changed.

There are no conferences or media preview days for me to attend in Columbus this year.

We connected with family members near and far via the internet for our holiday celebrations.

Boards of which I am a member conduct most of their business using online platforms. The Underground Railroad Museum is doing most of its programming online as well.

What a strange turn of events. Just as people were bemoaning the prevalence of cellphones and the way they seemed to distract everyone at a family gathering, those “gatherings” themselves suddenly became safer for everyone if viewed from a cellphone or computer.

Of course it is a good thing that we have the technology and the know-how to continue to do our jobs and connect with one another without having the person-to-person contact that can be so dangerous these days. Until a large portion of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, that trend will need to continue.

But is it possible that we shouldn’t be so quick to adapt so completely? Maybe we shouldn’t assume that neighbor we haven’t seen in awhile is OK. Perhaps we should change as we must but hang on to more that is familiar.

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