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Some reminders as we reopen

Walking through downtown this week was one of those first days where it truly felt like summer had arrived in northern Michigan.

One of those days where you’re sure to hear the comment, “This is why we choose to live up here.” One of those days that makes you forget that, yes, we did wake up to snowfall one morning this May.

The fountain is back in Culligan Plaza. The hanging flower baskets have been hung. Downtown Scoops has a line of customers into the sidewalk. Outdoor tables and patios are filled with people. It almost felt like a normal summer day in downtown Alpena.

We all know summer is going to look very different this year.

While our region of the state has been given the go-ahead to open certain businesses, many of the mainstays of summer have changed. Many of the events we look forward to each summer — Art on the Bay, the Maritime Festival, Blues Festival, the big tent at the Brown Trout — have been canceled.

Given the uncertainty of when it will be safe to hold large gatherings again and the amount of planning it takes to organize those events, many area events have had to postpone, promising to come back even stronger next year. For many, the way we socialize will change this summer, too, limiting our gatherings and backyard barbecues to small groups and rethinking our close interactions with those beyond our small circles.

We are grappling with the temporary loss of the mainstays of our daily life and with the larger community and cultural events we count on each year. We are grappling with questions about the future that a few months ago rarely would have crossed our mind. How close am I to another person? Who have those other people been in contact with? When can I reopen my business? Will my employees feel safe? Will I feel safe?

We are all grappling with those questions and processing them in different ways. The decisions our state leadership has made to protect our state’s health have unfortunately been politicized, prompting many to respond with anger, fear, despair.

At a webinar I recently attended, one attendee shared that the cancellation of summer events in their community had sparked outrage at leadership unlike any other issue had in the past. The presenter responded: We are all going through a period of grief. Grieving a way of life we cannot experience right now. Grieving our routines and events that root us. Grieving the loss of certainty.

Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. As events get canceled, when we can return to normalcy seems further and further away.

With the reopening of northern Michigan, the return to some routines got here quicker than many imagined. Many welcomed it with open arms, happy to reopen their businesses, excited to visit their Up North destinations, dine at a restaurant, visit with family and close friends. Many greeted it cautiously, navigating new standards for their business to follow, eager to see guests again, but worried about where those guests had been coming from, who they had been in contact with, and what they may be bringing to a small community.

Whatever your perception is on the restrictions and our region’s reopening, please remember that we are all facing loss and dealing with uncertainty in various ways. Some of us have lost the routines of daily life. Some of us have lost the ways we used to operate our businesses, now navigating new standards.

Some of us have lost family and friends to this disease.

Whether you’re visiting here or living here, please respect the guidelines that have been established to allow us to reopen safely. Wear a mask when you need to. Stay six feet away from other customers. Wash your hands frequently. Follow capacity guidelines.

Be kind. Be patient, especially as staff enforces new rules.

And, as we gradually reopen, relish in those moments that feel like normal.

Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.

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