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In This Place

Our Shifting Vision of a Post-pandemic Future

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Mary Bergman
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Maybe you saw that New York Times opinion piece about how we can be different people after the pandemic. “Our personalities are not set in stone,” Olga Kahzan wrote, “They are more like sand dunes.”

While the rest of the internet had fun running with this premise, coming up with the wildest transformations found in pop culture, a friend on the Cape had a different take on it.

“Eroding rapidly,” she joked, of our sand-dune-like personalities, strained by the pandemic and the impending summer. Well, she knows her sand dunes. And me.

Still, I was struck by this idea, of personalities and people like dunes. I have thought about this a little bit over the years: the way the wind and sea sculpts this place. It certainly must be having an effect on all of us who live here. Why would we be any different from the sand dunes or the scrub oaks in this respect?

I was thinking of all this last Wednesday while walking along Nantucket’s south shore, between Surfside and the end of Nonantum Road. This stretch of beach is where I pass as much time as I can in the summer. The winter was hard on the beach, eating away at the small bluff. New staircases have already been built to replace ones swept out to sea. In some instances, owners don’t bother and simply use a ladder. A seal, unbothered by beach access, scrambled by to sun himself on the sandy expanse.

It was April 14th, a day I have been wary of since I was a child and first became fascinated by the story of the sinking of the Titanic. Maybe when you spend most of your life in a watery place it makes sense that this tale would be so gripping. I usually make a point not to do anything too consequential on April 14th, when the great ship struck the iceberg.

But I didn’t hesitate when I had a chance to make a vaccine appointment for that fated date. I didn’t think of the Titanic. I thought, instead, of the sea studded with lifeboats.

There are people I only see on the beach, and I saw one of them at the vaccine clinic. While we stood in line, we discussed all the things we’d do this summer. We can be different people after the pandemic, right? A cellist played while we were all vaccinated, while we waited together-but-apart on the observation deck. Hard not to think of the band playing on, and all that.

In the days leading up to the vaccine, I asked other people about their experiences: did it hurt? How long did you wait? Which vaccine did you get? I did not think to ask how they felt.

The nurse was talented and fast. I didn’t feel the needle. I felt like crying all the same—relief, joy, grief. On the way home, the radio played that John Prine song, How lucky can one man get. It sure feels like cosmically good luck these days, to be here now, among the sand dunes, even as they shift.