The Past, Present, and Future of Normal

Not for the first time in my life, I feel like I am living through history in the making. Years from now, kids in school will learn about 2020 the way they now learn about the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, and they’ll try to imagine what it was like to be alive for events they either were too young to remember or weren’t alive to experience at all. They’ll hear about the COVID-19 pandemic and learn about how different countries around the world responded. They’ll memorize statistics about how many people got sick, how many died, how many businesses ceased to exist. They’ll learn about protests against police brutality and racism, and I can only hope that they’ll also learn about how real change came out of them and how police were made to be better trained and better held accountable and that as a whole our country took a hard look at systematic racism and began a years-long effort of policy and social changes that moved us closer to real equality in America.

Even though there’s so much upheaval and uncertainty right now, we still go about our daily lives. It’s strange to be simultaneously engrossed in updates on the pandemic and on protests, and to also have normal daily tasks to focus on like picking up groceries or finishing a report for work. I think about how it must have felt to be alive during other historical events, like World War II. The war is raging and all you want is for life to be more like you remember it before the war, more normal, but even though what’s playing out is terrible and hopefully ultimately makes things better the normal that you remember is gone forever. That’s how I feel now, like the “normal” I knew before March 2020 is never coming back.

It’s exactly the same understanding I had as I watched the footage of planes flying into towers when I was seventeen years old. Things will never be the same after this. 

Right now, normal is working from home and mostly interacting with my family and friends digitally rather than in person. I have a select few people outside of my own household that are in our little circle now, people that I feel reasonably comfortable seeing in person. We’ve gotten used to making plans with friends that let us follow the social distancing guidelines: meeting up at a park, or in someone’s yard, or in the adorable gazebo in front of my condo building. Normal is washing my face masks as part of laundry day, then putting them in their individual Ziploc bags and stowing them in my purse so that I always have a fresh one at the ready if I am out and need to run into a store or if there’s a crowd of people where I wasn’t expecting one to be. I own enough of them now that I have a variety of colors and I know which brands fit best on my face. Normal is really weighing the risks of doing things that I used to not even think twice about, like whether it’s a good idea to get my hair done by a stylist or go to a store in person rather than ordering from their website or whether I feel like I can appropriately social distance on the deck of a favorite restaurant or if I’d be safer just getting my food to go and eating at home.

When my husband and I set foot into our lovely condo for the first time, on a Sunday morning two years ago, I instantly fell in love and knew it was where I wanted to live. At the time I had no idea just how special the place is, how grateful I’d be for this open and comfortable home that is now also serving as our work spaces and our gym. Bill and I are able to both do our jobs without interrupting each other, we have a nice-sized deck that lets us enjoy being outside together and also gives us the feeling of doing something fun and different when we opt to get takeout and then eat outside as a treat for ourselves. Sometimes I feel a little cooped up, but I guess that after being at home most of the time for five straight months that feeling is normal.

And so, we’re grateful and we’re making the best of it.

I have no idea what “normal” will look like, post-pandemic. Will wearing masks in public just become part of everyone’s routine? Will I ever really go back to working in an office building, or am I home for good? What I hope will happen is that people won’t forget about this year, forget that it became a luxury to enjoy a glass of wine on a restaurant deck or to hug a friend or to go to a party. I hope that we’ve discovered what’s really important and that we’ll live differently because of this.

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