A New Normal

I wonder if we can ever feel ok again after the trauma of the pandemic, let alone “normal,” whatever that murky word means. People often talk about “when life gets back to normal,” or “when things go back to the way they used to be”. After 500,000 deaths in the US and counting, it’s hard to imagine a return to life as we knew it before COVID 19. But then again, Heraclitus, millennia ago, was wise to the impossibility of turning back clocks when he wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Well, it sure ain’t the same river, and none of us is the same woman or man any more. How has the virus changed the river, how has the virus changed each and all of us, how will we come to terms with it and when? It’s safe to say no one knows. It’s also safe to say the changes in the river and in us are neither entirely bad nor entirely good. How do half a million deaths, in the United States alone, weigh on the psyche of a nation?
As we look for positives, some of the new ways of being that were forced upon us have silver linings. I think many of us have a new appreciation of the term “essential worker”, as we have depended not only on the vital healthcare professionals but also those who have kept our lives going, delivering our packages and our food and continuing working in stores and services so that we have stayed supplied with our needs.
For so many of us working via zoom, we’ve had a little more insight into each others’ lives. The children and pets that have popped up into the background of a call, reminding us that we all have busier lives and responsibilities beyond work alone. The pressures of being home most the time with the same family members for some, the loneliness of living alone and trying to stay connected for others.
Maybe we have also gained a little more understanding through this time of how our differing brains have different strengths, and also need different types of support.
And yes, I am referring to those of us standing tall who have the invisible differences like ADHD. Many have found the pressures of the pandemic have led to an introspection and realization that maybe they have one of these differences, and have sought out official diagnosis. My practice alone is busier than ever, and more and more people of all ages are getting diagnosed, especially the largest overlooked group, adult women (and within that, women of color).
I always see this knowledge as liberating, the chance to understand oneself better and to seek support where it is needed and to build on the strengths that are always there, even if they can feel buried away. Most importantly, it’s the chance to take away shame and moral judgment of the difficulties one might have faced, and to understand instead that some brains are just wired differently. And that is ok.
As we grieve the people who’ve died from the virus; as we help our children make up for what they’ve lost in school; as we try to build back up the many businesses that faltered or failed in the past year, I hope and pray that when we are able to remove our masks and come closer together physically, we will learn maybe the most important lesson COVID could teach us: to judge less and love more.
Shakespeare urged that we love that well which we must leave ere long. For those of us who’ve survived the pandemic, who’ve been lucky enough not leave this world as yet, let’s go at life with renewed purpose not just to stay safe and virus-free, but to extend beyond our safe zone and into the zone of making peace with those we disagree with, suspending judgment in favor of forbearance, reconstructing bridges that we’ve burned, and learning once again how to laugh, especially at ourselves.
The normal I yearn for is I hope one we all want. A normal where understanding and empathy come before judgment and disdain. Where difference is celebrated more than conforming. Where strengths are seen instead of weakness, and where love and connection replace hate and division.
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