We’ve been “staying home” now for almost four weeks. And while the global situation seems to change everyday, our daily existence has fallen into a routine. A routine where we don’t accomplish anything, mind you, but a routine nonetheless.
So, instead of writing about what’s going on from a global perspective, this week I’ve been trying to be a little more introspective in my diary.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about is the concept of “new normal.” From social media posts to government leaders and public health officials, to major news organizations, people keep referring to our current conditions – the ones where we maintain social distance, don’t leave our homes or even go to work – as the “new normal.”
But I respectfully disagree.
I first remember hearing the words, “new normal” in the days after 9/11; but, looking back it’s clear that in in the midst of those early uncertainties and fears we had no idea what a “new normal” would like or just how much life in the U.S. was going to change over the next two decades. Changes that in many cases weren’t necessary, productive or even helpful for society. Nonetheless, the heightened state of security that we live in today is in fact our “new normal” in the U.S. (think metal detectors at baseball games, national identification cards, stricter requirements to get a passport, FISA warrants, additional bank regulations, etc. . .), but this “new normal” didn’t emerge for months or even years after the trigging event.
Those early days after 9/11 when the planes were grounded and the skies were empty, Wall Street was closed, New York City was a demolition zone, people were afraid to leave their homes were eerie and uncertain, but they were temporary while the U.S. figured out how to respond to the new threat of terrorism on our soil.
Similarly, nothing about the current COVID-19 pandemic is “normal” – new or otherwise. The multitude of changes that have swept across ever facet of daily life in the last three weeks cannot and should not be considered “normal.” People are being told not to leave their homes, families are separated, workers who are “lucky” enough to still have jobs need to carry papers to prove they are traveling to and from work, virtually the entire economy has ground to a halt, millions of people are unemployed (the latest numbers show that 6.6. million additional people filed this week).
My friends, this is not “normal.” It is our current reality, and we must adapt to it temporarily while we figure out the best way to fight this virus and give doctors and scientists the time necessary to do their jobs. But this way living is not sustainable.
People must work. People must be able to go to the grocery store without fearing for their lives. People must be able to buy basic supplies like toilet paper and paper towels and hand soap.
People must also be allowed to gather with family and friends. Humans are social creatures and to expect us to keep our distance for the long haul isn’t reasonable. Even during times of war, people found ways to be together and these connections sustained them through the hardships.
I believe that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and I understand why we all (well, most of us at least) have collectively given up our freedom, temporarily, for the greater good. This is commendable. But I refuse to believe that what we are experiencing right now is a “new normal.”
It appears that social-distancing is going to last a lot longer than we initially expected (it’s already increased from two weeks to six), and so we must adapt to it. Fortunately, humans are resilient and flexible, and in many cases, even patient. But, if there isn’t hope for something better in the future, something that at least resembles the “normal” we remember, then I’m not sure how we get through this.
I’m confident that as we slowly emerge from this pandemic – a process which is going take some time – a “new normal” will take shape. I can’t envision returning to life as it was before. The thought of sitting in a crowded baseball stadium or having strangers brush up against me at a concert or even shaking hands as a form of greeting is unfathomable to me.
This pandemic will definitely leave permanent marks on society and inevitably change our way of life. But exactly how that will look remains to be seen.
Our current reality is a drastic, definitely necessary but drastic, response to unprecedented circumstances. Only time will reveal what the “new normal” in America will be.