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Second ‘firsts’

The firsts of our lives impact us with emotional power unlike any other experience that follows, even if it is an experience in the same vein as the first one.

Those firsts hold a special place in our hearts.
Often, when we consider those big firsts of our lives, we think of profound experiences that felt life changing.

From childhood to adulthood, there are so many firsts that are unforgettable.

Living through a pandemic, I feel that although perhaps some firsts I am experiencing may not be intrinsically significant, they are powerful because of their context of COVID.

To be sure, we have all experienced many firsts since this pandemic began. While they are different and personal to each of us, there are some common firsts, though not necessarily dramatic, that we have all experienced these past couple of years.

To name just a few: wearing masks; attending celebrations via a screen versus locking eyes in person; suddenly seeing important formal personalities whose homes would normally be inaccessible to most, sitting and speaking to us from the intimacy of their homes and living rooms!

In our new COVID reality, I find there are second firsts we are experiencing, that is, the first time we have done something since COVID, not necessarily the first time in our lives. Some of these “firsts” might be banal, yet the context of COVID — of having abstained from a particular experiences — lends an added meaning.

The other night I experienced just such a ‘first’, and indeed in our modern world, it was what would normally be deemed quite banal.

I went out to dinner at a restaurant. Granted, even before the pandemic, I wasn’t among the big restaurant-goers of the planet, but it certainly was an outing I enjoyed from time to time.

Do I remember the first time I ever in my life went out to a restaurant? Is it even a significant first that anyone would remember? For most, probably not.

Strangely, it just so happens I do remember the first time as a little girl that my family went out to a restaurant. It was in Tiberias; there was a very warm and engaging waiter, and it involved a chocolate pudding he handed me. I may have been just three years old, but I remember it.

Nevertheless, eating at a restaurant for a first time is not from the significant history or memories of our lives.

Yet, somehow this mundane activity took on more meaning since it served as a sort of line of demarcation for me — a before and after moment, a “my-first-time-at-a-restaurant since COVID moment.”

While it wasn’t exactly in the sphere of powerful firsts such as first romance, first child, first house, first victory, first funeral, and other powerful junctures of firsts in our life, it will be unforgettable to me.

Not because of the new “normal” of needing to provide vaccination documentation prior to entering the restaurant — required in New York City — but because, in this one banal activity of going out to eat, it launches a formerly regular activity that went into hibernation, and is now just another part of life again.

For others, it might be taking a first airplane flight since COVID that will be significant in that way.

Strangely enough, and blessedly enough, I have flown many a flight since COVID hit, but I had never broken the barrier of the lesser activity of eating at a restaurant.

There was a hermetically-sealed kind of feel to the trendy art deco restaurant, by virtue of knowing everyone inside was vaccinated.

It lent a real inside-outside, us-them kind of subconscious vibe by the fact that only with the proof of my vaccinations was I admitted.

Although many of us have returned, albeit in an adapted form or another, to our “normal” life rhythms, there are still so many firsts — make that second firsts — that will be sneaking up on us, I think.

I still have not hosted a Shabbos meal.

I am wondering what are some of your “I still have not yets,” the second firsts that might still be awaiting.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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