What Does Feeling Okay Even Feel Like Anymore?

There isn’t even vocabulary for our pandemic emotions

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Sometimes I think I’m okay. Not great, but not terrible: I feel a little bit normal, a little bit comfortably ordinary. It’s usually when I’m doing something at home that hasn’t been affected in any way by the pandemic. Yesterday, I weeded my garden for a while, and I felt whatever that feeling is. I don’t have a word for it, really. When I rifle through my vocabulary to describe it, I often land on “okay” because it feels the closest to the emotion. Level. Steady. Regular. Functional. Okay.

Weeding my garden helps me feel okay because it’s exactly the same today as it was thirteen months ago. The goddamn clover is still woven in among the snapdragons; the amaranth is laughing at me; I have purslane coming out of my ears. Same as it ever was. Even sitting at my computer and writing can feel okay, because I’m still putting one word after the other, just the way I always have, and the sheer familiarity of it makes me feel… okay.

But something always pokes through. Today, the thing that poked through was a story about how much of the usual teen experiences kids are missing, things like school plays and proms and football games. Because I have a teen, this hits me especially hard, but even if I didn’t, it would wallop me. The experiences we simply have taken for granted! I don’t mean this as a scold — why shouldn’t we take for granted the idea that a kid could be in a school play? It’s not an extraordinary expectation. But now, it is. And that feels very not okay.

I’m vaccinated now, and I am very happy about that. But I had imagined, foolishly, that I’d feel not just okay but elated once I was vaccinated, that life would start having texture again, and the low-lying dread of the last year would begin to dissipate. I definitely feel better, in the sense that I know it’s unlikely that I will catch Covid (or at least, the variants that the vaccine is effective against). But I still have this aching for regular things, regular feelings, which still seem out of reach.

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Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own Literati.com book club (join me!)