A New Normal

How inward transformation can create global healing

by Emily Schoonover / Garnet & Black

Illustration by Emily Schoonover

During this pause, I have done my fair share of Netflix and chilling, TikTok surfing, Instagram stalking, at-home workouts, and whatever else to keep me from being disheartened by all the current pain and confusion in the world. I have also done a lot of thinking and processing. Particularly about the idea of normalcy. A lack of normalcy often causes panic and distress, while too much of it can drive someone mad with mundaneness. When it comes to normalcy, I have also noticed how malleable it can be. I went for a walk the other day for some fresh air and a lady passing by on the sidewalk moved a few feet off of the pavement into the grass to avoid contact. My natural reaction would have been offense just a month ago, but in this new age of COVID-19 and social distancing, her instinctive move is very considerate and much appreciated. After the second passerby almost fell off the curb into the road to avoid breathing the same air as me, it was almost without thinking that I followed suit and moved to the furthest edge of the pavement when passing a third woman on my walk. The same day my mom ordered a pizza and to her initial surprise she opened the door and the pizza was on the ground with no deliverer in sight. She then saw the deliverer off in the distance as she greeted my mom from afar. My mom laughed in light shock but quickly realized that the deliverer was following the new normative code. How quickly our sense of normalcy has changed. We truly are adaptable creatures. Just a little over a week ago I was in disbelief that something like this was happening during my lifetime but now it has slowly become a new normal and I often wonder if we will ever return to the way life was before or if we even should.

For those of us who have the luxury of being healthy and having our primary concern be when we will return to our daily routines, if our summer plans will be canceled, or if our expensive vacations will still be possible; our main goal is to return to some form of normalcy. We simply want this to all blow over sooner rather than later because what a great inconvenience it is for us to have to stay in our well-furnished homes, with our fridges full, our lights on, and enough money to sustain a decent life even in the face of a shutdown. We want things to be normal. But what is normal?

Well, poverty is normal. Systemic racism is normal. Being overly consumed in our own lives is normal. Putting ourselves before everyone and only doing what benefits us is normal. Degrading our collective home and leaving future generations to deal with the costly global repercussions is normal. It is normal in our society to be takers rather than givers. Even our most altruistic deeds serve to placate our guilt from these societal norms. It is normal for world leaders to teach hate and intolerance. And this is what we so badly want to return to. Normal. And then it occurred to me, “what a shame it would be to have gone through all of this chaos to just go back to normal.”

I am very uncertain about many things but I certainly hope that transformation would take place globally, but especially here within the United States. I really hope that this forced social distancing, quarantining and shutdowns will teach us more than, “live in the moment”. Although that is a valuable lesson to be learned, if it is the only one we learn, it would be a sad case. I hope this isn’t all for nothing. That lives weren’t lost, livelihoods weren’t ruined, mental and emotional states weren’t strained and pushed for us to return to the “normal”. In the past month, we have had our selfish veils of oblivion unrepentantly ripped off right before our eyes. I hope this pandemic opens all of our eyes to the interconnectivity of self. Of selves. We can no longer attempt to live in a vacuum, isolated from the world, motivated solely by personal gain. If we do we’ll find ourselves again in another global crisis.

What if I told you that we should be professionals at handling a pandemic. That COVID-19 is one of many pandemics we’ve been living in this country. Poverty, violence, brutality, institutionalized racism and sexism, faulty justice systems, education systems that continually marginalize marginalized children. The list goes on. The most pervasive and widespread contagion this world has been facing since its creation is that of apathy. A lack of concern, a lack of understanding, and a lack of acceptance- not just tolerance. We’ve been sick as a whole for far too long and the universe is forcing self-healing to occur. We are being placed in a global timeout to reflect and realign. When we refuse to pause our lives and follow a guideline as simple as staying home, in spite of seeing the death tolls, the pain of burying loved ones, the stress of medical professionals and all essential workers risking their lives, becuase we can not directly see the effects in our personal lives, that is when should all agree that we’ve reached a frightening point of self-destruction. This is our intervention and we may not have many more. Earth is crying out for her lost children and her depleted resources. She can not bear the continuation of the physical and psychological trauma of all the creatures within her boughs.

The sum of each part makes the whole. If one of us is broken we are all broken, so, it is time to heal. Who knows how the relevance of this piece of writing will have shifted by the time you, the audience, actually reads it. Maybe (hopefully), the COVID-19 crisis will be a feat of the past and we will be strong in recovery. Maybe not. What I do know is that the healing that has been initiated with the spread of this virus must continue. Healing is not a one and done box to fill out on our daily checklist. Healing is continuous, and I hope that we will forever continue to heal ourselves, each other and in turn, the world.

So maybe we don’t return to normal. Maybe the old is passed away and the new has come. If that is the case, I don’t want to be handed a new normal where the physical action of social distancing on a sidewalk or on a food delivery run transcends into our hearts for others. If our normal is to be adjusted, I want to create a whole new normal. A normal that is kind to others, that is slow to anger and quick to understand. Where is it not the exception to teach and reinforce love, acceptance, humility, peace, and rest. I hope that we do not just push to end this, but that we push ourselves to be transformed through this.