Richard Swerdlow: The Party

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

When is a party not just a party? When it’s your first post-pandemic lockdown party. Richard Swerdlow has this Perspective.

When the invitation arrived, I hesitated.

A family party, celebrating my niece's college graduation. The new normal for pandemic-era parties: evites include date, time and that every guest is vaccinated, party held outdoors.

A party seemed terrifying. After months of quarantine, I wasn't mentally ready to go from socially distanced to social. Still, the invitation said everyone was vaccinated, and I hadn't seen anyone except in family video calls, where off-key renditions of Happy Birthday had been sung, and glasses clinked at the screen for special occasions.

An actual party gave a whole new meaning to social anxiety, but I put on pants and went.

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Entering to pantomimed air hugs, the back yard was crowded. But as the evening wore on, my mask came off. Food was delicious, drinks plentiful, the toasts to congratulate the graduate touching and hilarious. And, as we sat around talking and joking, I realized how much I had missed this. Just sitting around the backyard, with the dumb jokes, goofy behavior and well-worn stories that are part of any family gathering.

And, in this familiar setting, with the world so changed, I was suddenly, unexpectedly close to tears. My niece, graduating, while I remembered the day she was born. My brother and sister-in-law, with a silver anniversary coming up. Was it really so long ago I gave my best man speech at his wedding? I remembered sitting in this backyard with mom, gone now almost two years.

I was grateful for the dark, as I choked up for not just my family for all our families. For the weddings and graduations and back yard get-togethers lost to lockdown. One in four Americans report losing a friend or family member, and around the world, nearly four million lives taken by this virus. Four million who will never again sit around with their family like this, sharing good times and bad.

It was a wonderful party. And that evening, I was grateful for more than just the dark. Although COVID has taken so much, it's also given me something: a new sense of gratitude for simple things, for the chance to just sit around a backyard and laugh.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.