Normal

Normal is a tricky concept these days.  Now that states are starting to reopen after the coronavirus quarantine, it is hard to know how to view life.  Reopening commerce is not a free-for-all for freedom.  Wisely, reopening processes are gradual and tentative.  As the process plays out, it does so on a social canvas that is chippy and uneven.  Some people are declaring victory over the virus and bustling to be the first one in line to regain “real life.”  Others are certain that everything is happening too quickly, with public health being thrown to the wind in the name of economic health.  Everyone is sure that their position is the reasonable one.  Many people are also trying to validate that their perspective is the reasonable one by advocating for their position on social media.  It can feel a little judgy and a little self-righteous.  It is hard to know what to do.  I struggle with the questions of legality, safety, and risk/benefit.  I also struggle with the question of what is socially acceptable. 

It is particularly difficult because one of my great fears about this whole quarantine thing is happening.  I have lost my grip on social interaction and how to do it.  As I explained in my post Social Distancing  ( http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/03/social-distancing/ ), I had a tenuous hold on that skill at the best of times.  Now, I just feel weird. The energy required to maintain social connection in new and different ways during the quarantine has been a bit draining.  I have worked hard to mold my social interaction needs and skills to fit a virtual world, but it has felt awkward like learning to write with your non-preferred hand. Now, I just want to return to writing with my dominant hand, but it feels rusty from disuse.  It does feel good to go out and about a little bit.  It is not that eating in the dining room of a restaurant or looking at clothes in person inside a store is that big a deal. The giddy feeling of normalcy is a big deal, however.  On the other hand, that normalcy is clearly just pretending.

“Normal” has not started in today’s world.  “Normal” is sputtering.  As with an old car in need of a tune-up, I am never quite sure what will happen when I turn the key of “normal.” I may be delighted and pleasantly surprised to see that Outback Steakhouse is open.  I may be jumping out of my skin at the chance to go to Disney Springs.  I felt like a real thrill seeker visiting a fancy home décor specialty shop in a cute little local downtown area.  Truthfully, though, the experiences are still far from normal.  The “normal” car started, but I still have that nagging sensation that there are things going on under the hood that may portend disaster.

There are the big, visible abnormal differences. We wear our masks, sucking in trapped humidity with every breath.  We avoid hugging and shaking hands. We project our voices when we speak to friends across a six-foot barrier.  Fitting rooms, jewelry counters, and other more “hands on” experiences in stores are still unavailable.  Starbucks, along with some other big chain dining and retail establishments, are still closed to walk-in business.  Church services are still coming to us via the Internet instead of face-to-face fellowship. There is still a wistful stillness and vacancy in places that are open.

There are also the less concrete barriers to normalcy. I have said from the beginning that I was not too worried for my physical health or safety.  It is not that I think the virus is not dangerous or that we should just go about our everyday routines without employing safety precautions.  I just had a feeling that I, personally, would be okay no matter what happened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  Given that perspective, it makes sense that I have a little less trepidation about returning to normal life than some other people do.  Just as I have been careful to adhere to the public health guidelines and limitations in place out of respect and compassion to other people, I want to be respectful and compassionate to other people as we climb over the other side of the quarantine curve.

Reading people’s posts on social media, it is hard to get a good take on what the socially acceptable level of comfort is. I’m okay starting to patronize the physical world again now, but I suspect many other people are not.  I do not want to be insensitive to other people’s feelings. I also do not want to be thought reckless and irresponsible. I do not want to endanger other people’s physical or emotional health.  I also want to spend time having fun and improving mental health with friends who are also comfortable venturing into the great unknown of public dining rooms, stores, and theme parks.  I have been enjoying small gatherings of friends at outdoor picnics for the past couple of months, sitting more than six feet from each other.  When is it okay to move those gatherings into enclosed spaces without risking the health of those I love or freaking anybody out?  A couple of friends and I have an overnight girls’ trip planned in a couple of weeks.  Are we all comfortable riding together in the same car for three hours?  What precautions should we employ to be respectful and polite? 

I guess the answer to all of these dilemmas is communication- communication about comfort levels that has nothing to do with judgment, trying to convince other people of how they “should” feel, or vilifying people who feel differently.  The goal of communication is to preserve relationships and stay close, not erect dividing walls based on “comfort” level. 

How “normal” do you feel at this point?  How are you transitioning back to real life?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a better-than-normal day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

4 thoughts on “Normal”

  1. There have only been 3 reported positive covid19 results in the rural county that I live in. Early on in the pandemic response I came across Daily Quarantine Questions, one of which was – What expectations of normal am I letting go of today? I came to realize that most of what I did was normal, i.e. daily and seasonal routine especially if I stayed home. It was easy to social distance living alone in a rural area. Snow needed to be cleared then spring yard work commenced. The rhythm of spring planting and newborn calves in the area lent to the sense of normalcy. Face-to-face socialization was replaced by lengthy telephone conversations. That has tapered off. People are venturing out more. Hand sanitizer is placed at the entrance and limited guests are invited to wash their hands. I feel less than normal when I wear a mask as recommended by the provincial medical officer of health. I felt less than normal when I saw empty shelves in the grocery store at the beginning of the pandemic response; no flour, yeast, masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, bleach to be found. I feel less than normal when people feel compelled to rationalize their behavior, talking about “breaking the rules” for whatever reason. It’s becoming the norm to discuss measures of risk reduction when there is a gathering and thank goodness for summer and the ability to gather outside. All in all, some semblance of normal has returned.

    1. Well said, Mona! The normal and less than normal aspects are life are so interspersed that I sometimes feel a little disoriented. Still, I am excited by some sense of normal. I think it is natural and reasonable that “normal” returns in fits and starts rather than all at once.

  2. Feeling not normal at all.Arizona is in midst of terrible upsurge in cases. I went to Trader Joe twice since March 3, other than that have not been in a public building. Last week,since our numbers are looking so bad,decided to go back to Instacart delivery.I miss everything about my old life..even though it was not a whirlwind of activity, I had nice routines with friends and on my own, that I miss a lot.Library time with my husband, thrift store hunting, art group meetups. I am feeling socially isolated even though we can facetime and zoom. It’s feeling like things may be this way for a year. I AM afraid of getting sick, if I go out in public and mingle.So, I won’t go out , for now. I am leaning into my spiritual practices even more, enjoying my own home and backyard, and savoring the dinners with our son when he visits. Would not even THINK about going into a gym, a restaurant, or a grocery store right now. People in Arizona are NOT wearing masks,either. I am a retired RN and I KNOW what a ventilator and being in an ICU are like. My husband and I do get out to local parks to walk, that lifts my spirit more than anything.

    1. It can certainly be discouraging. Every time I think I find a little bit of “normal,” something happens that reminds me how far my standard of “normal” has fallen.

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