I daydream about some of the vacations I want to take when it is safe to travel. I have no idea when that will be. It is hard to imagine sitting shoulder to shoulder with a stranger on an airplane—or my wife sitting shoulder to shoulder with a stranger since she is the one who usually takes the middle seat. It will probably take a while to regain airplane trust, restaurant trust, and other kinds of trust. I don’t want to become a distrustful person. It doesn’t seem like distrustful people are truly able to enjoy life.
I guess the challenge we face is how to remain distrustful of a virus without remaining distrustful of the people who might carry it. It’s clear that we won’t be doing as much handshaking in the years ahead. This will be an adjustment for me, since I’m probably more of a handshaker than most psychologists. I expect we will come up with new ways to honor our connections with people. Waving could become more popular. We could get creative with hand gestures the way younger people have gotten creative with handshakes. There is no reason we can’t take our virus anxiety and turn it into something positive.
Motivation obviously plays a big part in regaining trust, as we are only willing to take risks to the extent that it involves something important to us. That is why heartbreaking disappointments usually don’t stop people from giving romantic love another try. Will we all give movie theatres another try? I was talking—six feet apart—with a fellow dog walker who confessed that she might never sit in another movie theatre again. A sadness hung in the air during our conversation. I felt sad for our favorite historic movie theatre that relies on community support. I felt sad for our old way of life that might never return. As we were saying goodbye, she concluded how it was such a crazy time, and I nodded without hesitation..
For many of us, this isn’t our first experience with some kind of craziness that has tested our trust. My trust has survived countless tests, big and small. Some of these tests involved my dad and brother; others involved scariness that felt much less personal. I remember when someone was murdered at our neighborhood party store I had to find a way to process that danger and convince myself that it was okay to buy candy there again. My brother chose to stay away, fearing that the soul of the victim was still in the party store. My dad tried to assure him that the souls of people didn’t hang around convenience stores, but my brother never returned. I was surprised by how patient my dad was as my brother became more ill. Trust is rarely an all or nothing thing. People and life are full of contradictions. We are all faced with the same challenge now of how to embrace a world that has so much beauty and also so much horror in it.