For the past month, all has been right in my world. My dear friend and I ran our parish’s Vacation Bible School in-person with over 100 attendees (counting campers, parents, and teen volunteers). We have written our own programs for years, and this year, which the Pope declared the Year of St. Joseph, we focused on Jesus’s foster-father. Writing the program and seeing it come to fruition was great, but nothing topped seeing the kids together, talking with them, teaching them, and interacting with them face-to-face.
After VBS ended, it was my daughter’s fifteenth birthday, then Father’s Day, then my in-laws arrived to celebrate my father-in-law’s 90th birthday. We threw him a surprise party at my house with over 30 of his friends. Cleaning the house, making spaces open and safe for company, decorating, and putting out food and drinks was the best kind of work. I love hosting gatherings and providing hospitality. Then to have all that work culminate in engaging conversation, socialization, joy on the faces of all the attendees, and most of all the surprise and emotion on my father-in-law’s face! My heart felt so full I thought it might burst.
During their visit the in-laws and their three kids decided to spend a day at Universal Studios, and we joined them for the day. We stayed over at a hotel for the first time in over a year. We went on rides, laughed, ate, drank—all unmasked, because we’re all vaccinated—and I felt truly alive again.
My eldest daughter was chosen for her high school’s Arts Showcase, which highlights one singer and one dancer every year. She recorded her songs in February, but because the chosen dancer sustained an injury, the showcase filming didn’t finish until May. The showcase video was just released in mid-June, right when Vacation Bible School began. I wanted my daughter to have some of the joy of having a live audience watch her perform, so I asked her to invite some friends over to watch. She invited 15 people. The house was still clean from my father-in-law’s party, but teens like different food than adults, so I put out some snacks and beverages and made sure there was space for everyone to sit. Hearing my daughter’s friends engage with her as we played the recording was amazing. Being able to hug the young women I’ve known since my daughter was in grade school was, however, the absolute best. I had seen them throughout the school year, but we were all masked and kept our distance. Now that they were all vaccinated that wasn’t necessary, and the hugs they gave made it clear they missed the contact as much as I did.
Parties, gatherings, travel, theme park visits, celebrations, but most of all time spent face-to-face with those I love were all the things I longed for during the pandemic. As these weeks ended I was so grateful I didn’t even feel tired. Like a true extrovert, I charged my battery through face-to-face human contact and it was glorious.
As the world opens up again, extroverts like me are going to be euphoric. However, one thing I learned from watching my family of introverts during the pandemic is that they might not be as happy. My husband and two daughters did not have a difficult time this past year. Granted, it wasn’t easy having a mother melting down on the regular, or fearing that by going to school they’d kill their grandparents, or having to wear a mask the entire day at school, but their life was quiet and stable. We are fortunate to live in a large house with lots of rooms where we can spend time on our own.We didn’t have a gajillion activities. No one could get together, so they didn’t need to decide whether to expend their energy on the kind of social gatherings that charge me up but completely drain them to the point where it takes almost a full day to recover.
I’ve planned a road trip later this summer to finally visit a few colleges for my daughter, who is now going into her senior year. I’m thrilled. My oldest is excited; it is her future, after all. The other two would really rather stay home and play video games. I’m going to be pushing them out of a comfort zone they’ve been in for over a year. Their comfort zone is not just where they feel safe and happy. It’s where they thrive. It’s where they truly wish to spend all of their time. And while I know that’s not healthy, as we resume our “normal” lives I know I have to let them keep some of that time. I can’t drag them out every day. I can’t make them come with me to crowded social gatherings (and I have to give them space to hide when I hold them at my home).
It makes me wonder what measures our society will take, now that we’ve been socially distant for over a year, to maintain a space where introverts work best. How can we, as a whole, create a balance of working conditions for extroverts and introverts?
Introverts work best when given time to think before they answer. Extroverts jump in and answer to talk things through. Introverts are drained by large groups. Extroverts are energized by large groups. Introverts are skilled at giving well-thought out, fully considered ideas. Extroverts are skilled at spur-of-the-moment brainstorming. Both groups are necessary for society to progress. Extroverts can take the interpersonal risks while introverts can take the time to make sure ideas moving forward aren’t half-baked. The key will be to maintain the quiet environments in which introverts thrive and reinstitute environments that give extroverts the human contact they need. But neither should take precedence. Just because extroverts are loud about it doesn’t mean introverts shouldn’t be able to create environments in which they thrive, too.
Having lived in our own spaces for the past year and a half, we know that we can get work done and do so pretty successfully. There is no need to go back to the crazy, fast-paced life we led before where we ran from job to home to activities to home to start all over again the next day. The roads have been clearer, the planes have been emptier. People who used to fly out-of-state for a lunch meeting now realize they can get as much done over email or a virtual meeting. People who used to drive hours into the office can telecommute. For extroverts, the travel might be worth it. For introverts, it just won’t. Striking that balance as we move forward will be both essential and, I think, might make life better for all concerned. However, with extroverts so able and excited to resume life as usual, introverts should probably gear up to stand their ground and maintain the boundaries that have worked for them this past year and a half. Extroverts are far more likely to steamroll society back to the way it was before, and that’s completely unnecessary.
After all, on Monday, though I woke up at 7am to get to the DMV at 8am to get my younger daughter her driver’s learning permit, when I got home I took a six hour nap. The fact that all the introverts in my house were sleeping, too, reminded me that I need to take a break from the outside world to recharge my body as much as being out in the world recharges my brain. One of the things all my vacation bible school students will be able to tell you is that God spoke to St. Joseph when he slept, and we all know that God mostly speaks in the silence. Extroverts would do well to remember what introverts already know: a little silence and solitude renews the soul.