It’s Time To Create a New Normal

Every day more people protest to reopen. Small businesses defiantly reopen because the owners can no longer afford to stay closed. Schools are torn between wanting to celebrate milestone students and staying closed for the remainder of the year.

And here we are.

Everyone is longing for normal. Yet everyone keeps forgetting that after a tragedy, normal is relative. Normal needs to be redefined.

Ever watch a romantic comedy and get to that scene when the man has chased the woman away and now wants her back. So, he runs through the airport, trying to keep her from flying out of his life forever. And you know the movie is pre-9/11.

New normal. You can no longer go to an airport just to watch the planes take off or walk in to pick up a loved one. And you need a ticket and screening before you can run through the airport to retrieve the love of your life.

I know it is early, but we need to begin to construct a new normal, not hold on to the old normal.

I got an invitation to our annual leadership retreat and laughed. The details of these retreats are usually withheld until the week before. I knew as my cursor hovered over the yes button that if this retreat was in-person, with fifty of my colleagues packed into a tiny room, I would not attend. I watch the news reports of the packed beaches and cringe. There goes our family vacation. For the first time since my 10th birthday, I wanted to try something new and have a gathering. Uh, nope.

I will not live in fear. Yet, I know that from this point on, I will straddle the line between caution and normal. This line is the new normal.

We call it the Big Germ in our house. Yes, we all know the real name, but to my five-year-old and my anxious heart, Big Germ is less villainous, more tolerable. And the truth is this is one of many. This is not the first time we’ve had big germs. Nor the first time our lives have been shaped by a global event. Yet, even as I allow my son to compile a list of activities he wants to do after the Big Germ passes, my mind calculates the best way to keep us sage.

My job is installing plexiglass on every front counter. My mind instantly rebels against this image. From my experience, plexiglass is used the keep the cashier safe in bad neighborhoods. My lower-middle-class paycheck means I no longer have to frequent those places. Yet, this is the new normal. Grocery stores. The pharmacy. Universities. Plexiglass and hand sanitizer for everyone!

People seem to cling to the past, white-knuckling it with both fists. The past is mourned and romanticized, while the future is feared. Right now, people are so angry and afraid of the present they are protesting to go back to normal even though they know people will die. Death is apparently liberty against a virus. Who knew?

The anger, while misplaced and, frankly, idiotic, is understandable. After all, we are all grieving and coping. Or trying to anyway. Things will be different, as they were after 9/11 and the great recession.

The thing that we are not seeing is life changes every single day.

Change happens constantly. Fifteen years ago, recycling was for hippies, now most people at least recycle paper regularly. In the 1980s, my older sister and cousins had free reign over the neighborhood. Ten years later, I could only go a little up the street, still in sight of trusted neighbors who never hesitated to call my family if things got out of hand. Seven years after, my younger sister was not allowed to walk across the street to go to the park alone. Twenty-one years later, I get a thumbs up from passersby as they watch my son play outside. He goes to indoor playgrounds and expensive structured activities like soccer to be with other kids and ensure his safety.

Sometimes changes are subtle, like watching the differences in rearing three siblings who are more than five years apart in age. Some are rapid, like going to the pharmacy two weeks later to get more allergy medicine and finding plastic and plexiglass everywhere. Either way, change is inevitable. Change is life.

Try not to despair. Change is happening all the time. The trick is to not hold on the old too tightly; not every aspect of the past should remain. For example, there is no reason why flights should have ever been packed, and planes never cleaned. Just yuck. Seriously. How have we not protested that crap yet?

It is time to stop gripping the past and embrace this strange new world we live in. Fear will keep us immobilized, and irrationality will hurt others. Instead, we need to walk that line.  It is time to create a new normal.