It’s been half a year since the last “normal” day.
Got up. Went to work at school. Came home from work. Ate dinner. Went to bed.
Woke up the next morning to a world that required more flexibility, patience, and courage than ever before. And that’s where we are now. Or at least, that’s where I am.
First, I want to dispense with the word “normal.” It’s a word I’ve grown to hate. It’s also a word I’ve come to understand as a work derived from comfort, privilege, and complacency. (I might have written about this before. I can’t remember.)
Your normal might be a warm bed, three homemade meals a day, and a steady job. Someone else’s normal, meanwhile, is a cardboard shipping box your bed arrived in, leftover scraps from your homemade meal, and no options for employment. People are fond of pointing out that we aren’t all in the same ship during the pandemic, which is true. But it was also true before COVID-19. It’s just that fewer people thought it was worth bringing up. Fewer people were in an uncomfortable ship.
And that’s why “normal” is a concept I now loathe. It’s also something I have no interest in “getting back to.” Normal wasn’t working for a lot of people. If we went back to it now, that would continue to be the case, so why bother? Let’s build something better.
Six months have passed since the big shut down really started to roll out here in Vermont. It was the last day most schools were open, and they didn’t reopen until a little over a week ago. Businesses of all sorts shut down. Most – if they survived – have already reopened.
The term “essential worker” rose to prominence. People once taken for granted were valued in a way they’d never experienced before. Some of that appreciation has disappeared lately, I’ve notice. (There’s “getting back to normal” for ya.)
Many of us put on face masks. Some continue to choose not to. The difference between accepting rights and responsibilities and only accepting rights, displayed as clear as a Times Square billboard.
And the pandemic is far from over. I won’t repeat numbers here. I’ll just say it’s bad. So much worse in the United States than it needs to be. Beyond what I imagined when I went to bed on March 17, 2020.
“Hundreds of thousands dead from a pandemic in a matter of months? Not here in America. It can’t happen here.”
There’s a phrase I’ll throw in with “normal.” Instead of swear jars, we should have “It can’t happen here” jars. A money maker for sure, even, as it turns out, while “it” actually does happen here. And the “it” applies to a hell of a lot more than just the pandemic.
I’ve spent a lot of time processing what I’ve experienced personally over the past six months. It’s really tough to separate out the non-pandemic stuff from the pandemic stuff. It’s always there in the background, lurking.
(By the way, the great works of literature and cinema that come out of this time will use that approach. Keeping COVID-19 in the background, letting the mundane play out and be influenced by it. People won’t be interested in consuming works in which the pandemic is the big-bad. We’re already living through that.)
There are events like losing my sweet little Sally. I place that firmly in the category of “would’ve happened regardless.” She was a 15-year old Pekingese. COVID-19 had nothing to do with needing to help her cross the Rainbow Bridge. But it did make the weight of her loss even greater.
Then there’s stuff like my daughter’s high school graduation. That belongs in the “would’ve happened regardless, but the pandemic changed it completely” category. Years of expectations and planning were dashed, replaced by alternative plans that were successful to varying degrees. For what it’s worth, I thought my daughter’s school and the community did a hell of a job turning lemons into lemonade. Her graduation felt more like a celebration than any other I’ve attended.
What about the raccoons? That’s a question I asked a lot back in June when my family rescued a half dozen babies who’d lost their mother. Would we have been home to rescue them if not for COVID-19 keeping us home? Would we have had the time to devote to them? Would our lives be as rich if we’d not had that experience? And how much harder would the loss of Sally have been if we’d not had a primer in loving and caring for those little ones, only to say goodbye to them?
Then there’s the really big stuff. The changes in careers for my wife and I. The sorrow and joy and learning experiences we’ve had together during this strange time. The things we’ve done that we’d always talked about doing “someday.” All stuff we did right here at home.
I’ve made zero progress on my novel this summer. My counselor tells me it has to do with the constant flight-fight-freeze mode we’re all in these days. Some chemical trigger that helps spark the creativity I need is otherwise preoccupied with keeping me alive. Stupid survival instinct …
Six months have gone by. I wonder about March 17, 2021. Six months from now. One year from the day it all started to change for me. I’d offer some predictions, but I’m trying to be more optimistic. So I’ll end by saying that when I sit down to write a follow-up on that date, I hope you and yours are around to read it, each and every one of you safe, happy, and healthy.
Take care of each other.