A New View of Normal
When things don't seem quite right, I usually squint—at least for a while—hoping a different gaze will change my view. I think that if I look at the situation from just the right angle, it will all be fine and normal. “Normal” is always my aim. Part of that started when I was a kid and my family seemed “less than normal,” or whatever I imagined normal looked like. Now, when the ground shifts a little, or my expectations are rattled, I try as hard as I can, for as long as I can, to keep things as neat and predictable as possible. As with most people, the pandemic put those efforts into high gear. If there had been a merit badge for organization and caution, I would have won one.
Folks I’ve passed countless times over the years now lean toward me and smile earnestly to remind us both that we’re still out here trying to make this work.
Despite the extreme oddness of suddenly meeting with my colleagues only via computer—and all that went with it—I did everything I could to keep a calm tone and move forward as if this was something we did regularly. I tried to maintain a schedule, I started running more than I’d done pre-pandemic, and I worked so diligently that I felt guilty if I stared out the window at my backyard. I also wore a mask everywhere I went, started ordering groceries online and visited every "Get Your Covid Vaccine Here" webpage I could find until I got my two doses. Of course, through most of the early months, I was also trying to convince myself that we would surely elect a new president. I couldn’t let either COVID-19 or Donald Trump take control of my life and turn it into something I barely recognized. So, I gripped tightly to my picture of normalcy and squinted whenever possible. And honestly, up until just recently, things started feeling a tiny bit normal and like not that much had changed.
It turns out, of course, everything has. The Delta variant is now following us like an unpredictable dark cloud, and anti-vaxxers are proudly espousing all of their reasons for keeping the world on edge. Most of us have interacted with only a small group of people for all of these months, and countless others have lost family members, jobs, homes, and basic security. Things have changed, and continue to change. If there is ever a normal to be found now, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet. For me personally, as lovely as it is to be on a retirement schedule, even creating my new non-working life is a little nerve-racking.
I get it that “normal” is not really a thing, that we’re always evolving and changing and growing and moving and shifting. That’s life, right? It’s also what makes life interesting, if we’re feeling secure enough to let ourselves experience every turn. But I’m thinking these days that it's better to just acknowledge the earth-shattering change and quit wishing for sameness. When I walk or run in the mornings, I’m trying to remember that, to look more closely at each person’s face in order to connect. I see other people doing the same thing. Folks I’ve passed countless times over the years now lean toward me and smile earnestly to remind us both that we’re still out here trying to make this work.
Most of us feel empathy when someone has experienced something tragic or difficult; even when a person we know has had a hard day. Now, we’ve had a hard couple of years, and we need each other more than ever. Maybe we just need to talk, to smile, to laugh. We need a sense of human normalcy, a reminder that we are all going through this together. And, even though things seem as if they will never be the same, they will be something. I don’t really want to experience that by myself.
Normalcy, of course, isn’t what I imagined when I was 9 and wanted my family to look like the family on “Father Knows Best.” What I longed for, I realize now, is a sense that, no matter what we or our group might look like or experience, we need to focus on our connection, however we can make it happen. Let's hope that's the new normal.