“I’m way too excited about this outing,” I say as I get into my friend’s Volvo recently.

We’re on our way to a diner for pancakes. At least that will be my chosen lunch. And indoors, to boot.

Diner coffee. Diner pancakes. Diner banter. Salt and pepper shakers on the table.

Diner. Diner. Diner.

It was the Malibu Diner in what we call uptown Hoboken. During a particularly rough April when both my parents were battling COVID-19, I had expressed on Facebook this very desire and someone in my little town jumped on the idea. Soon we grew to a party of four.

I wore lipstick and a vanilla snake Aimee Kestenberg crossbody bag. I don’t mean to name drop, but seriously, I’ve hardly worn anything but a slouchy Nike backpack for 14 months. My sister gave me the bag for Christmas, a holiday I celebrated alone; I opened it with much delight in March.

Ahhhh … re-entry.

It’s not all this positive, though. Not by a long shot.

I’ve put on pandemic pounds. My gym has closed for good. Trying to take my walks to a cardio level has been made challenging by achy knees.

My favorite diner, in downtown Hoboken (hence closer to my apartment), didn’t survive the pandemic. The sweet spot for journaling near my gym – Starbucks – did a remodel a few months ago and my adored table (and all the tables) are gone.

I am grieving the loss of my daily routine. Now that I have the green light to get back to it, its components are no more.

Sure, I’m a life coach who will tell you this paves the way for a new beginning, but for now I need to mourn what was. I loved my routine.

A big part of that, of course, was the people, the community I’d built. The off-hours gym folks. The cook at the diner who knew I’d probably want two eggs over light with whole wheat toast and no potatoes. My picture was on the wall, for goodness sake. Even my bank branch is right there, tellers who know my name and when they didn’t see me for a while checked the activity on my account to make sure I hadn’t succumbed to COVID-19.

I read a piece last year about how a lot of what we were missing was our acquaintances. We mostly stayed in touch with our closest friends and family. It was those, let’s call them strong acquaintances, that we missed. For some that means co-workers. In talking to my coaching clients, I’ve come to realize this ranges from one’s yoga community to the volunteer group at the animal shelter to the bartender in your neighborhood pub.

As we venture back in, many of us with great caution, these moments of return feel like a gift. At a time when we’ve lost objective truth in our country and our democracy is teetering, when I have lost my father to the virus, when so many lives have been stretched thin to the point of near breakage, it is imperative to remember some have fared better. They’ve managed to thrive anyway, to use this time to re-start, or re-configure, or re-evaluate what life should be.

The best of us will find a way to set new priorities, not beat ourselves up for a slow transition back, appreciate the joys we managed to find along the way in a historically sad year.

And yes, we will get way too excited to drive to a diner a mile away from home for a short stack and lively banter in a booth.