Normality is a moving target. Figuring out what is normal is like trying to catch fog in my hands. I look out across the distance and the fog obviously exists, but up close I can’t see it. I’ve seen lots of talk about “the new normal” but nothing is settled yet, everything is still shifting. We’re still having community arguments about masks and kids in school. The fact that we’re arguing means none of this is normal to us yet. Communities don’t argue about things that are actually normal. Things that are normal are so accepted that they are as unconsidered as air. This can be good or bad depending on where normal lands.
In the Before Times I would be in the church building at 10am on Sunday morning. Instead I’m sitting in my kitchen with scriptures and a study manual trying to have insights without anyone else to bounce ideas with me. Later I’ll have a short meeting with Howard and my one child who still connects with my religion. I treasure those small meetings. They are sacred and special in a way that I could not have had before the pandemic. Yet I miss larger spiritual community connection. I’ve considered starting an online discussion / study group, but part of me resists the idea of creating that commitment. Not sure why I have that resistance. Today is a normal pandemic Sunday, with patterns that have become familiar over the past several months.
In the coming week my family has decisions to make about my son’s senior year of high school. Those decisions have a huge effect on where normal will land for us. What patterns do we want to establish that we think we can sustain over the next nine months. I expect to have several false starts as we discover which aspects of our plan are working and which are not. Deciding about school is only the beginning. Holidays are coming. They carry a heavy weight of tradition and emotional resonance. We’re going to have community arguments about what pandemic Halloween looks like. Are class parties allowed for elementary school? Do the kids get to have their costume parade? Do people go door to door for trick or treating? Then there are Thanksgiving and Christmas where families have to decide whether to gather, whether to distance, whether to wear masks. The internal longing for familiar traditions will be strong. We’ll have to fight ourselves and that will manifest as fighting with others. I’m already tired thinking about each of these community discussions to come. Yet we can’t reach a true New Normal until we’ve cycled through all of them.
For my part I’m trying to settle my mind and heart into gratitude and a lack of expectation. I’m grateful for the things I get to have: Sunday with family in my house, visits with my married kids (the only non-household people allowed in my house,) online visits with others. And I’m trying to let go of expecting anything to look like it did before. All of my events must be re-imagined. It is grieving to let go of traditions that grounded me, but exciting to be able to re-envision so many parts of my life. I have so little control over how the next months will play out beyond the walls of my house. I suppose it isn’t surprising that I’ve been focused on house projects as a concrete thing I can control.
Eventually pandemic normal or post-pandemic normal will arrive. It will do so quietly, we’ll only notice we have it after it has been surrounding us for quite a while. It will not look like what we imagined when we tried to declare “this is what the new normal will look like.” Until then, everything is in flux.