Youngstown professor recounts the party again after the lockdown



It wasn’t until Mary Beth and I were back home that it struck me: I didn’t just have a good time. I was nourished by the celebration. I felt like I was drinking a full glass of water after working in the yard all day. It was satisfying to feel alive again.

Last week my good friend and colleague Jaietta Jackson turned 50.

Now I’m a gentleman who wouldn’t normally be the age of a woman in the local news. But these are special circumstances. In Jai’s case, I share because she basically celebrated her birthday for an entire month. In doing so, she took her friends on an uplifting journey in the midst of a really crappy time.

When I received the “save the date” at the end of May, I was struck by the fact that there was something more than a little taboo about it. A birthday party? Like a true, honest-to-kindness, drinks, food and other goodies? For adults?

After all, we’ve been living in lockdown for almost 18 months now. Shops closed. Weddings and graduation ceremonies have been postponed. No retirement celebrations. Loved ones who died were buried without a proper funeral. Until a few months ago, I had gotten used to living in a COVID world where parties were strictly prohibited. Now here’s my buddy Jai offering the forbidden fruit (for what it’s worth, Jai had candy-covered apples for the treats).

Thinking about it, I started to feel what others were feeling: that under the right circumstances, celebrations are a must for our sense of psychological well-being, for cultivating bonds with friends, and for letting go.

We are allowed to do things like that again. For now anyway.

But then I started to worry that I couldn’t remember how. How to behave like an adult (fun). How to tell funny stories, connect with old friends and make new ones. How to dance (yes, “dance”).

Do not mistake yourself. I spent a good part of my youth partying. I went to college for (many) years. The 1990s were a good time to be a young man. I’m an extrovert who gains energy from being around people, so I was very, uh, “energetic” in my twenties. In fact, one of the biggest issues for me during the pandemic was finding a way to deal with the lack of social interaction. Now, I had the chance to socialize and celebrate the life of a good friend, and I was a little intimidated by the opportunity.

The party was a lot of fun. There was amazing dancing and food and a signature drink called “Jai’s Fabulous 50 Rum Punch” (I have no idea what was in it, but it came via a bartender who poured it into a magic jug). I saw friends from work and people from the community and we all laughed, talked and enjoyed each other. We also enjoyed the forgotten taste of freedom. We enjoyed feeling like unencumbered adults playing.

It wasn’t until Mary Beth and I were back home that it struck me: I didn’t just have a good time. I was nourished by the celebration. I felt like I was drinking a full glass of water after working in the yard all day. It was satisfying to feel alive again.

I understand that a lot of people don’t often enjoy social situations the same way I do. Many have told me how liberating it is to be locked up during COVID and the comfort they derive from isolation.

But I think that’s exactly what Jaietta’s party did for me. In my case, however, I found solace in being released from confinement. And I think her birthday came just at the right time.

Now we are seeing new locks and warrants due to the delta variant. While the vaccines seem to do a good job of preventing serious illnesses caused by this more contagious strain, I fear this may be a setback.

I haven’t given up on Fall, but it’s hard not to lose some hope when our “back to normal” walk takes a left turn at a dead end. When the vaccines first came out, I dismissed all doubts and received them as quickly as possible. I got the hang of it for many reasons, but perhaps the most compelling was my kids.

Like Jai, I turned 50 during the pandemic. By comparison, my 50th birthday in October 2020 was much quieter than Jai’s. And like many of you, I’ve been struggling since March 2020 to navigate the dos and don’ts of COVID.

Still, for the most part, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. It’s only a brief moment in my life.

I created a lot of memories and gained a lot of experience from my youth, but that’s a different story for my children and their friends. My 8 year old has spent about 50% of his life wearing a mask in public (his calculations, not mine; we are working on his math skills). My 11 year old daughter spends time with her friends on Google Hangouts, not sleepovers. My 14 year old daughter is entering her high school years with apprehension about 40s. And my sweet 16 year old daughter spent time with her family on her milestone birthday last weekend instead of having a big party with her classmates.

We are getting closer to normal, but we are not there yet.

If part of growing up is learning to manage expectations and delay rewards, I predict that pandemic children will be especially good at this. I’m a heel to promise them that things will get better soon. Maybe I should have said “as soon as possible”. My tone is always upbeat and hopeful when I remind them to take off their masks and maintain a little more distance when they are around other people.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my hope is starting to falter. I keep telling them that we are going to have a party to burn the masks. I am no longer giving “Save the Date” for this party.

It’s my fault that I feel this way. I allow myself to hope that we are near the end. When my YSU students are feeling down because they’ve spent “the best years of their lives” in Zoom meetings instead of Penguin hatches and house parties, I’m the one telling them we’ll be happy again. the campus’ sooner rather than later.

In my life, I have used hope to take me through many dark times. It is a powerful psychological force that humans need to survive tough times.

As Dale Archer puts it in his Psychology Today article: “Hope is the belief that circumstances will improve. It’s not a wish for things to get better – it’s real belief, the knowledge that things will get better, no matter how big or small. It is the belief that at age 55, after a disaster in which you lost your house, your car and your belongings, all that is important, you still have your health and your family, and you can and you start over.

Seeing Jaietta celebrating her 50th birthday with all the strength gave me hope when I needed it most. Now I try to share this hope with others. COVID doesn’t follow a calendar, but with every celebration I remember that one day I’ll be partying with even more friends on a regular basis.

Partying will be more enjoyable this time around because I will remember how difficult life is without her.

Adam earnheardt is a professor of communications at YSU and a member of the executive council of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.



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