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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a better-than-normal day!