It’s been a rough few weeks for me and mine. And we’re not alone.
So many people are tired, worn out, and exhausted. We’ve watched the west burn, the pandemic is having a resurgence, the election is over, but still in the news, and the winter holidays are here. Everyone seems to be wondering how to balance family events and precautions – especially when not everyone in every family agrees over which measures need observed. People are thinking about the new year and trying to plan ahead.
Through it all, “I can’t wait to return to normal.” is repeated almost daily – by friends, neighbors, family, customers, people I pass on the street. And for some reason, I so want to reply, “But, this is normal.”.
Sure, I miss the occasional social event (I’m an introvert), eating out, not thinking about when and how I run errands or get groceries. But, right now, this is normal. After all, normal depends on your point of view.
My grandparents, a number of other family members, and many people you my have known/know, lived through the Great Depression. Normal before the Great Depression looked quite different than normal during, and even after, the Great Depression.
My dad was a toddler during WWII. His memories of a normal childhood include blackouts at his grandmother’s home. Another part of his childhood included long hospital stays after surgeries; these hospital stays included the occasional quarantine due to polio and measles outbreaks – making nurses, doctors, quarantining, and sterile environments, normal for him.
Thanks to the Cold War, many of my generation thought nuclear bomb drills in school were normal; just as those in tornado prone areas think tornado drills are normal, learning to swim is often normal for those who live near/on water, and ice skating, skiing, and winter sports are normal activities for those who live in cold climates.
A normal farmer’s life is quite different from a suburbanite’s normal life. Normal to members of a large family is quite different than normal to someone from a small family. A normal upper class life and a normal middle class life have many differences. The normal life of someone visually impaired is not the same as a sighted person’s idea of normal.
Need more examples? How many movies, TV shows, or books, are about someone’s normal being turned upside down, completely altered, or changed by circumstances? The city fashionista forced to move to the country. The country kid dreaming of city life. Rags to riches. Riches to rags. North to South. East to West. Moving to a new country. Finding out you have a sister/brother/daughter/son.
You get the idea.
Also, how many times have we said, or heard, “This is my new normal.”, as something in one’s life changes? The change may come unexpectedly, but often it’s simply the progression of one’s life, and time, moving forward. This progression means we usually don’t expect to “return” to the previous state, and we don’t expect things to “go back to normal”. Normal simply becomes something else; and we accept it and adjust.
Life as a teenager becomes something else as one moves into adulthood. Finding a partner changes one’s normal routine. Families change as new members arrive and others leave. We change careers. Pets come and go. If we’re lucky, we grow old. With each change, the good and bad, we adjust our perspective and what we consider normal changes too.
Normal is simply “confirming to a type, standard, or regular pattern: characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine”1 By this definition, what we’re going through now is normal – because it’s become the regular pattern, a typical day, part of our routine.
We grab a mask when we leave the house, and we wear it in shops and public places. We use virtual platforms to “see” our friends, attend events, and go to class. We zip through curb-side pickups and order take-out. We keep our distance from one another and don’t encroach on the personal space of strangers. We handle daily transactions through panes of plexiglass. We’re cautious about visiting our elder relatives and friends. We are more aware of our hand washing and general cleanliness.
These actions and routines have become normalized. They’ve become our typical interactions and events on any given day. Even if we don’t agree with them, we’ve accepted them as usual and expected. Change has forced us to adapt normal to our circumstances. Change alters normal. What will be considered normal after this pandemic will not be same as what was considered normal before it.
To many things have changed. Even if the changes are subtle, they’re there – our relationships, routines, habits, family life (even if you’re a family of one or two), jobs, economy, and the political landscape have all changed over the past year. Some changes have been for the better, some for the worse, but there have been changes; and there is no “going back”. Time only moves forward for us.
So, for now, this is normal. Even if we don’t want to admit it.