It would be remiss not to address the same thing that’s on all our minds this week. We’ve officially been living through a Pandemic for one year. I live in New York, and we went into a tight lockdown a year ago. It’s funny how the brain changes. Seeing posts about traveling right now, seeing faces without masks, or reading about someone taking their pet inside a waiting room at the Vet all set my shackles on edge. It’s like seeing old images of the Twin Towers after all this time. It hits your brain in a funny way. I suppose it’s all part of the “new normal,” a phrase, by the way, I’ve hated right from the start and dislike even more now.
My whole life has been a mix of encouragement to both “be normal” and “not be normal.” It’s a term I’ve never fully understood nor have worried about too much unless it involved my years of health issues. Then I was concerned about blood results being normal. But hearing daily discussion of a new vs. regular normal is exhausting. Let’s get a thesaurus out to see if other words felt like they fit better than normal. For example, routine.
Because the truth is, we don’t share a normal. If we’ve been paying attention, I mean really paying attention to the shouts rising from our friends, family, neighbors over this past year, we don’t share a normal. The thing we share at this moment is a Pandemic. We’re more unified over that, even with people who think it’s a hoax, than we are most things. But as people, we don’t share one normal. So how can we have a new normal?
Let’s try routine. What changed was our routine and our structure. We liked the routine we used to have because it was comfortable, predictable, and used to it. For so many of us, our mental, physical, and spiritual health relied on that routine. My husband has worked in person through the whole pandemic. A lot of people did. They were the closest to keeping their routines, but even that changed a lot. He spent his days doing his best to create a feeling of safety and serenity in a grocery store that couldn’t keep its shelves stocked and dealing with people shopping in a panic. Before we knew how it spread, I set up a new routine for when he got home so we could keep our small home as safe and serene as possible. As soon as I found patterns for masks, I shared them with my mom, who is an amazing sewer, she made them, and we started wearing masks. And yet another new routine for exiting and entering the car.
I went from teaching in-person in 1 jail to working from home and creating homework packets that I changed out with my students, not in person, but through the corrections officers. Then I took my first summer off, where I hiked every day, did an invasive species survey, and wrote and breathed. Now I teach in 2 jails, with 2 masks on my face, cleaning constantly, and my hands are drier than even their usual winter dryness. I have smaller classes, shorter classes, more classes. My routine has changed a lot.
My students and I talk about their lives when they get home. I showed a video this past week about bad career advice. One thing she addresses is who a good person to get career advice from. She says to look for the person who does well with change and adjusts as things are happening because both life and jobs change. Not to ask the person who complains constantly and resists change. I pointed out how much has changed over the past year. As employees, they need to adjust to the new situations, the new routines, the new structures. It doesn’t mean not addressing issues, problems, concerns, fears, confusion, and all those human feelings. But change happens.
When people complain about wanting to go back to normal, I get it. There’s a laundry list of things I miss and crave and grumble about missing. But what I question is the word normal. I’ve never wanted normal. But I do miss the feeling of safety, being able to move freely to other places, having breakfast at a diner counter with my elbows touching strangers, and having weird conversations. I miss taking the train, making plans, not making plans, and just doing something spontaneously. I miss a lot. I’ve lost people during this time. I came close to losing a few others. I also came close to losing my cat, which may not seem big. But she’s my special fuzzy face.
But I am going to celebrate the things I’ve accomplished over the past year. I got certified as a grant writer and fundraiser through Notre Dame. I started grad school. I’ve written a lot. I’ve published several pieces and have more coming out this spring and summer. I hiked a ton. I shared a ton of photos with people through social media and am genuinely touched by the people who told me how much they needed those photos for their wellbeing because they were stuck inside in an area not surrounded by nature. I read a lot. I worked in my gardens. Built new friendships, not in the standard way, but in the new modern way (a.k.a. remotely). I’ve kept up this blog and am so excited when people talk to me about it.
I can’t say what normal is supposed to be. I’ve always pushed back against what a lot of people deem normal. Normal always seemed boring to me. But I don’t think that’s what we miss. I think it’s just a word we’ve collectively clung to. I think we’re just sad and scared and want familiarity. That’s ok. Hopefully, we’ll get back to that feeling or a feeling close enough to it.