When was the last time you applauded for something?
I’m talking about engaging in some honest-to-goodness clapping, with other people who are also clapping.
Applause was, perhaps, the most pleasurably jarring return to "normal" I experienced over the first "normal" weekend I’ve had since, oh, March 2020. I saw the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Perpetual Motion on Friday night at the Centennial Concert Hall — the venue, incidentally, where Wilco performed the last show I saw with an audience pre-pandemic.
After 19 months ordinary, familiar things like clapping (clapping!) have become strange.
When the house lights went up during intermission, revealing a distanced crowd that, just moments before, sounded much larger than it actually was, I turned to my friend and asked her the same thing. Her eyes widened above her mask. She couldn’t remember, either. "That’s a good observation," she said, before adding darkly, "it’s nice not to use the ‘clap reaction’ on Instagram."
After 19 months — ugh, it feels like we’re giving the age of our collective, terrible toddler — ordinary, familiar things like clapping (clapping!) have become strange. Friday night was a pandemic time-warp; it felt like I hadn’t been to a live event in years, not months, but also, like I’d just been to one. It helps that the Concert Hall is a reassuringly familiar place; I felt comforted by all those red seats, the ballet unfolding onstage, the music of the orchestra, the laughter of an audience. It felt... astonishingly normal.
Of course, it’s not normal, not fully. The pandemic asserted itself in little ways, especially when the house lights were on. Masked audience members, a smaller orchestra, distanced patrons. But in the dark of the theatre, you could forget.
That is, until, somebody coughed. Coughing in a theatre is as normal as clapping in a theatre. Someone always coughs. But during a pandemic, that particular normalcy takes on a different tenor. Being out in the world right now feels like those first warm days in spring, when you can finally expose your flesh to sunlight after spending an endless expanse of winter hiding under layers. It feels good, but vulnerable. After all, it could still snow.
Still, we marvelled, my friend and I, over everything about that evening.
Still, we marvelled, my friend and I, over everything about that evening: the fact we could meet for a glass of wine and tapas — indoors — before the show; the unreasonably unseasonable October weather; participating in applause. Going out and doing things. How normal. How special.
It’s in stark contrast to October 2020, when Manitoba had begun scaling a deadly second wave. Such a night out would have been unfathomable. It would have been unsafe. Vaccination has been our passport to going out and doing things. To wit: everyone in the Concert Hall was vaccinated, including the dancers onstage. Vaccination is making possible the things that were, for many months, impossible.
We are not where we were a year ago, thanks in large part to those who rolled up their sleeve and got the jab — this incredible achievement of science that gave us a version of our lives back.
For the vaccine-hesitant (or the vaccine-defiant), one of the sticky talking points is that it was developed "too fast." But picture, if you will, an alternate timeline, a darker timeline, in which we were 19 months into this thing with no vaccine. What would that look like? How many lives would have been lost? How many lockdowns would have been endured? How many businesses would have been shuttered? How much burnout and sadness? Would there be vaccine hesitancy if a shot was still years away?
We are being offered glimpses of post–pandemic life, reminders of all of life’s privileges ‐ and they are privileges ‐ that are so easy to take for granted.
So no, we are not where we were a year ago, and we’re not yet where we want — where we need — to be. But we are being offered glimpses of post-pandemic life, reminders of all of life’s privileges — and they are privileges — that are so easy to take for granted. Like sharing a beautifully prepared meal in a restaurant with a friend, or hearing the sound of applause in a theatre.
How normal. How special.