I remember the first time somebody turned down my handshake.

It was in the early days of the pandemic when COVID-19 still seemed like some exotic, if deadly, virus confined to China, certain cruise ships and the West Coast of the United States.

I offered my right hand to a job applicant in the Times Free Press newsroom, who had flown in from California, and he politely declined.

"OK," I thought. "That's odd."

A few weeks later, as the virus engulfed the globe, it didn't seem odd at all.

As time went on, we all decided it was best not to touch people outside our household. Soon, we were all sequestering at home and ordering face coverings off Amazon.

So how do we start unwinding from all of this now that over half of the adult population has received as least one COVID-19 shot?

Will every retreat from pandemic protocols feel as weird as the descent into social distancing and hands-free greetings?

I've decided to keep a log of my feelings.


* First handshake.

It had been fully two weeks after my second Pfizer vaccine inoculation. A young plumber had come to my house to fix a faucet. As often happens, I instinctively started asking him questions about his life and career.

He told me that he was the only one of his siblings who hadn't gone to college, which was a source of disappointment to some members of his family. Still, he makes more money than all of them, he said.

I congratulated him on finding a job that can't be outsourced and wished him every success.

When it came time to leave, he put out his hand. I shook it energetically.


* First maskless encounter with a stranger.

I was out in public the other day when I saw a senior citizen lose her balance and fall backward on a sidewalk. She hit hard. I ran and knelt beside her.

"Ma'am," I said, pulling down my mask so she could hear me. "Are you OK?"

I could see she was frightened and hurting.

"Don't worry. I will stay with you," I said.

Later, she gathered herself, and I helped her to her car as a friend arrived to drive her home.

At a moment like that, I realized that no social-distancing rules can override your instincts to do the right thing. Nor should they.


* First trip to a sit-down restaurant.

Last Saturday, my sister and I, both of us fully vaccinated, decided to get breakfast at a local restaurant.

It was my first, sit-down, order-off-a-menu restaurant meal in at least a year. I didn't even mind that my eggs were runny.

I did catch myself looking left and right to determine if the tables had been spaced out a bit — they had. After a few minutes, I felt myself relax into familiar surroundings.

I noticed myself profiling a bit, somehow feeling more comfortable around older customers — assuming, rightly or wrongly, that more of them had been fully vaccinated.

The beginning of the end of the pandemic feels like nothing more than the change of seasons.

It doesn't happen overnight, but the slow warming is unmistakable, like the arrival of spring after a long, cold winter.

Email Mark Kennedy at

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Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo