I tend to prefer the view of my neighborhood these days. Walking block to block I notice the flowers blooming, the tree branches stretching to the heavens, the puffy white clouds against the clear blue sky. If I let my thoughts wander in the right direction, I can pretend that our world is not navigating its way through a pandemic.
It’s when I leave the neighborhood that there are more reminders – empty parking lots at malls and theaters, socially-distanced lines outside of grocery stores, fellow customers in face masks, few cars on the usually-busy highways. I lamented to a friend this week that I am so anxious for things to get back to “normal.” My friend said carefully, “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to ‘normal;’ there will be a ‘new normal.’”
This was not the first time I’ve heard this, and I have to tell you, it terrifies me every time. I LOVED the old normal! Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was known and had so many things going for it. I can’t hear “new normal” without wishing it away immediately and longing to return to the previous season of life, before all this happened.
The other day I returned home after a relaxing evening stroll around the neighborhood. I lingered on the porch before going in and I heard something floating on the breeze – guitar music! It was faint, so I paused to listen and be certain. Sure enough, there it was; a neighbor was outdoors, playing guitar and singing along! I found every excuse to stay outside and listen longer. Never in my 12 years of living here have I heard a neighbor playing music outside. It was lovely.
As I processed this, I thought of all the beautiful things that have come because of this pandemic. We’ve learned what it means to support people in our neighborhoods and communities; we’ve become much more innovative, and we’ve learned to more deeply appreciate what we’ve had all along.
When I think about the ways I’ve seen others rally around their fellow community members, I think about the fire trucks and police cars I see driving through the neighborhood to celebrate kids’ birthdays. I think about the people reaching out to their neighbors to check on them and see if they have any needs. I think about all the households who have put up hearts, or bears, or flowers in their windows to bring smiles to those walking by. I think about all those who have donated money to provide for those who are in need right now.
When I think about how much more innovative we’ve become, I think about all the teachers who pulled together meaningful distance learning for their students with little notice. I think about all the places of worship who moved to online services and kids’ programming. I think about the non-profits who have provided resources for kids and adults alike to keep spreading their mission and serving the community. Some good examples are the Rum River Art Center who has been giving free online art classes, the MN Zoo who has been sharing informational animal videos and activities, and Stages Theater’s “Beyond the Stage” programming offering behind-the-scenes info, instruction, and entertainment, to name just a few! I also think about all the creative ways families and friends are staying connected with one another. We didn’t know what we could do until we had to. I am so impressed.
We’ve also learned to more deeply appreciate what we’ve had all along. I now value our food supply more than I ever had before. When my cupboards have food, I am grateful whereas before I just wondered where to stack things. My husband and I still have our jobs, and I recognize now what an immense gift that is. Before this, I took for granted the opportunities to shake hands and hug friends; now I dream about what that will be like again; how good it will feel to give a proper greeting rather than a shout out from a distance.
I’m so thankful for the things we’ve learned. Some lessons have been painful, but as I continue to learn in my life, hard things and good things tend to intermingle. I don’t want to forget these important lessons when this is all over.
Maybe that new knowledge is part of the new normal. Maybe we walk together into the future having learned these lessons together. The new normal has felt scary to me because I don’t know what it will be like. It feels like this vast unknown, and I am a person who struggles with change! But what if the new normal is actually…better?
What if in the new normal we cherish what we have more deeply? What if we keep innovating? What if we rally around each other and look out for one another more?
That’s a new normal I can get excited about! Let’s create that beautiful new normal together.