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We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Living Without Fear

Stanley Peter Jaskiewicz


  • Stanley recounts his decision to attend his 40th college reunion with his wife despite personal fears and anxieties about COVID-19.
  • Having been cautious due to a history of heart disease and recent open-heart surgery, he discusses his risk assessment and the measures taken to ensure safety during the reunion, including vaccination, mask-wearing, and outdoor events.
  • The experience leads him to reflect on the importance of overcoming fear, taking prudent risks, and resuming social activities.
  • Despite subsequent reports of infections among classmates, Stanley emphasizes the rewards of stepping out of a mindset of living in fear.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Living Without Fear IARUNICHEV

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Are you tired of reading about the Pandemic?

Me, too.

But don’t click away- this is not an article about COVID-19.

Instead, let me explain how my desire to attend my 40th college reunion with my wife overcame my personal fears and anxieties about COVID-19 – and helped me become comfortable living in a post-Pandemic world.

For many reasons, our trip was a big deal for me.
Although I have been to her campus – both our children are also graduates – she had never been to my alma mater.

COVID-19 hit us all just a few months after my own open-heart surgery in July 2019.

As a result, I have been very cautious. My history of heart disease has been identified as a COVID-19 risk factor.

Although I had resumed “in person” work on June 1, 2021, and have commuted on public transportation since then, I continued to mask long after it was no longer required.

When Omicron hit, I began double masking with an N95.

I even have a sign on my office door, “Please wear a mask before entering this office.”

Nonetheless, I wanted to see college friends, while I could.

Several died recently – we are all in our 60’s, after all – so who knows who will still be around in 5 years?

In addition, I particularly wanted to spend time with my wife with close friends whose weddings I had attended, and who she knew from other events.
But my personal risk assessment for the trip seemed daunting.

I had no expectation that classmates would mask during the weekend.

I was comforted that all attendees had to vouch for their vaccination status, and have a clean test in the days before arriving on campus.

However, no one was checking - our Reunion chair called the requirement an “honor system.”
(The fact that this was discussed on our class Facebook page in the days before the event shows that I was not the only one concerned.)

Moreover, I had no illusions about what to expect.

A Reunion inevitably is the antithesis of social distancing. I knew that typical outdoor courtyard bars and meals would be packed, shoulder to shoulder.

Even worse, case counts in Connecticut, the Reunion location, had been rising.

(I had even set alerts for stories of infections from the two Reunion weekends before ours, but did not see any.)

In fact, my college chapel still required masks, and had online signups to prevent crowding.

Despite these concerns, I ultimately decided to attend, after a long discussion with the “health coach” that our health insurance plan sends to our office.

I had lamented to him that I would avoid an event I had enjoyed immensely in 2017, all because of my own fears and anxieties.

To his credit, he challenged my assumptions, and walked me through a detailed risk assessment:

  • My wife and I were both vaccinated and boosted.
  • We understood that we should avoid indoor unmasked crowds.
  • We would wear high quality N95 and KN95 masks when desirable.
  • Everyone else would be vaccinated and tested.
  • Our train rides would be on Amtrak and our local rail transit agency, both with excellent air filtration.
  • We would stay in our own dorm room, reducing close exposure risks.
  • To reduce normal Reunion weekend crowding (and accommodate classes whose 2019 and 2020 events had been cancelled), the typical one weekend Reunion schedule had been extended over three weekends.

In short, I became convinced that we could attend safely. (It was not a hard sale.)

Ironically, my own desire for social interaction led me to venture out of my personal inherently anti-social bubble for the first time since the start of the Pandemic.

Notwithstanding our comfort level, we also hedged our bets. We purchased more expensive refundable train tickets, rather than the significantly less expensive non-refundable fares.

When Reunion weekend arrived, we had a glorious time.

(So did others in my class)

I saw many friends and showed my wife around campus, including a legendary lunch spot she knew from a cable food show.

Of course, I saw some changes when we arrived.

There were a lot of old people there, not like I remembered from college.

Even without masks – I only saw a few of the over 700 persons in attendance wearing one – I saw many unfamiliar faces wearing a large print badge with a friend’s name. 40 years is a really long time.

I jokingly asked some vaguely familiar faces who they used to be if I could not read the badge.
I even got a picture of myself with the college mascot, a bulldog.

Like many others, I also wondered how I had survived a dorm’s spartan conditions for four years.

My wife even could laugh about her first encounter with my school’s communal, coed bathrooms – “there’s a naked man in there!” (I quickly remembered to knock first before entering.)

Finally, after 3 days without masks, we put them back on for long train rides home, relieved that we had done what I had thought impossible.

We never felt ill, and arrived home tired and safe – or so we thought.

In the next week, the initial wave of photo sharing was quickly swept aside by reports of widespread infections – including one college friend with whom we had spent a lot of time.

Many classmates, all of whom had been vaccinated, boosted, and negative for COVID-19 before the Reunion, all tested positive within the week, both with and without symptoms.

One, who lives abroad, was even stuck in the US – his country of residence has strict travel requirements for re-entry.

Concerned, we immediately took rapid tests – both of which were negative.

For all of our optimism after an unmasked weekend, we learned that the best precautions – vaccination, boosting, and masking with outdoor events – may still not be enough if virus levels are high, as they were in the state where we visited.

Fortunately, as of the writing of this column, none of those infected have reported serious illness.
Afterwards, reflecting on my willingness to expose myself to so many others, I resolved to resume a ministry at my church that I had stopped early in the Pandemic.

If I could be comfortable in an unmasked social situation, why not in the service of others, as well?
But there are no guarantees in life, whether involving COVID-19, or otherwise – I still mask selectively, such as on public transit.

However, for one weekend, I learned that taking a prudent risk could be more rewarding than I could have imagined.

To paraphrase a 1960’s classic for our times, “We gotta get out of this place, 'cause girl, there's a better life for me and you.”

However, the “place” I had to leave was not a physical one, but my own mindset of living in fear.