The capacity of the human spirit to overcome obstacles is awe-inspiring. We rehabilitate our bodies, our property, our communities, and our minds in our neverending quest to move forward. But, do we ever really “get back to normal?”
Years ago, I babysat a toddler. At some point during our relationship, his parents took him on a trip overseas. The jet lag was difficult for the child, and since the mother worked from home, she didn’t mind letting him sleep later. She changed my hours as a result, and when a while later we had a disagreement, she brought up the fact that I wasn’t even coming in as early as I used to as an illustration of how she had accommodated me, I calmly reminded her that it was I who had accommodated her. Pointing to the schedule of her fridge, the one she had clearly she changed after their trip overseas, I explained that despite her changing my hours, I still had to get up and leave at almost the same time because of traffic delays, which affected my commute if I left later. Our “normal” had changed, and even she was confused as to how.
Because of this pandemic, we have shed our physical communities in deference to a disease. Because of this pandemic, we have changed our shopping habits, finances, spending, work, and household relationships. Will we remember what “normal” was or will we forget and get used to something that becomes our new normal.
For many years I taught Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night. In the early part of the text, Wiesel repeats the phrase, “…little by little life returned to normal.” It is a phrase I point out to students because it is telling. Each time their lives returned to “normal,” they were not, in fact, returning to normal at all but had actually gotten used to something that was much more restrictive than normal. Like a lobster in a cold pot of water being gradually brought to boil on the stove, they didn’t leap out in shock, because the changes were incremental. I used to explain it to my students this way; if you wake up in the morning with a few hairs on your pillowcase, it’s no big deal. You don’t worry about it even if those hairs aren’t growing back until you realize a great while later that you’re going bald. However, if you woke up one morning and vast clumps of hair were on your pillow – you would immediately call the doctor because you could see that something was very wrong. When change happens slowly, we often become complacent about it. The extra ten pounds don’t appear overnight – they happen one snack at a time.
All of this is to say, we must remember what normal actually was. It used to be that when we went out, we didn’t view every person we met as a potential threat or harbinger of disease and destruction. We frequently gathered in groups and didn’t mind touching, bumping, and sliding by others. Our children spent more time interacting with actual people than their peers on social media. Lots of people enjoyed going out to work. People exercised and were more physically active. Snacking was minimized. People were free to gather and enjoyed doing so.
Just because we can get used to functioning in a reduced state doesn’t mean we should.
I’m not saying to go out and stop doing our part as responsible citizens or defy social distancing orders; I’m merely trying to keep a note of how it was so that we do not lose what we had. We should not view each other as threats. We should never forget that part of what makes humanity so wonderful is our ability to connect spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Like so many threads, when we are scattered, we are weak – when we come together, we are strong.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”