My boys and I went for a walk today. It was ‘recess’ for them and a break from posture-killing laptop work for me. As we passed another family on a narrow path, all of us did the awkward slalom/edge-to-the-side maneuver to preserve those essential two meters. Will we ever get back to normal? Normal is no longer underrated. Most of us would like a bit of normal.
We’ve even seen some leaders give the impression that this whole social distancing thing is an elective response and that we could still be having ‘normal’ right now. We get this impression when public voices ask if “the cure is worse than the disease.” The presumption behind that question is that the economy would have continued on as before if we hadn’t decided to get away from the normal. That is certainly not the case. The normal is gone, whether public officials mandate social distancing or not.
What we’re finding in our household, though, is that some of this lost normal is just fine. We’re still busy, but fewer time constraints, deadlines and commutes mean less frenzy and more mental space to enjoy little things. I’m now feeding a sourdough starter named Darth Vader. We run lots of little experiments, learning about volume and tensile strength. Though we’ve connected less with colleagues or schoolmates or members of the community, we’ve connected more with our extended family. With no church service to attend, we’ve been figuring out what worship means for our household. That’s been interesting. I’ve come to appreciate the Common Prayer liturgy.
I’m hopeful that there might be some lasting changes on a broader scale too. There are some norms worth leaving behind. I hope that the new normal will include a greater appreciation for people doing jobs that really are essential—not just healthcare work, but other things too, like garbage cleanup, trucking, appliance repair, running a grocery, or producing food locally. I hope that the new normal will include less elective international travel and stronger local economies. I also hope the new normal includes more cooperative politics and less partisanship and polarization. Oddly, strangely, depressingly—that last norm might take more than a global pandemic to reset.
So here’s my pastoral encouragement: without minimizing the dangers of our situation, let’s appreciate the chance we all have to let go of some of the old normal. Some norms are better left aside.