June 11 was the day for which we’ve all been waiting for 15 months. With Illinois moving to Phase 5 – full reopening – many of the restrictions we’ve been living under since mid-March of 2020 fell away.

  It’s strange, you live so long with things like wearing face coverings in all non-home indoor settings, making sure you’re six feet away from people around you, when you’re free of the restrictions it feels kind of weird.

The first time you shook hands with someone, did you hesitate? If not, the thought likely went through your mind, ‘Hey, look, I’m shaking hands!” The first time you walked into a store and both customers and employees were walking around with nothing covering their faces, what went through your mind? 

These are the baby steps to normal, and we have begun that journey thanks to many, many people — from the scientists who worked overtime to create vaccines to local, county and state health officials who had to make tough decisions to ensure the pandemic didn’t do more damage than it might have, to local elected leaders who had to impose unpopular restrictions that canceled public celebrations and closed public buildings, to recreation and library staffs that made sure our lives remained enriched, to restaurant and grocery store owners and staff who turned their lives upside down to change the way they sustained us and themselves, and to educators who reinvented the way they delivered instruction, on the fly.

And, yes, we also get to thank ourselves for enduring a remarkable year, full of uncertainty and doubt, and for the most part keeping our eye on the ball when it came to limiting the impact of COVID-19 on our families and those around us.

This summer, we’ll be gathering for parades and for concerts and movies in the park. It’ll be interesting after a year of those things being absent from our lives to experience them having gone through the past year.

Of course, the pandemic lingers as the number of people being vaccinated slows. As we head through summer – weekly COVID-19 cases last week, five in Brookfield and one each in North Riverside and Riverside, returned to a low level we haven’t seen since this time last year – we can only hope we don’t see the kind of spike in cases that we saw beginning late last summer.

As weird as it might feel to get back to normal, it would feel much weirder, and quite frankly depressing, to have to re-impose restrictions now that Phase 5 has become reality.

It’s still up to us to make sure we continue to enjoy “normal.”