I started this sketch with the words:
“There is no normal. We are not going back to normal. We never had normal.”
And then I thought about it, and realised making sweeping statements isn’t quite what I want to do here.
After all, some people really do want to “go back to normal”. Maybe you’ve even said or thought that in the past few weeks.
But today i want to ask the question.
Do we, do I, want to “go back to normal”? If so, what does that look like? How does that feel? Why do we want it?
On Monday of this week, I felt like I had the most incredible day. I…
- read a Brene Brown book, and thought a lot about how it applied to me, and journaled about it
- listened to several podcasts
- did my situps and pushups (nearly to 100 of each)
- visited a friend I hadn’t seen since before lockdown - drove to their house, went in, had tea, chatted, caught up on life
- drove into Glasgow, parked, went to the hairdressers, and got my hair done
- called a friend to clear some things up, and to talk hurt and expectations and healing
Six months ago, that would have felt like a “normal” Monday. Maybe even a little quiet.
This week, it felt ground breaking. Not just for the healthy decisions of all kinds (mental health, spiritual health, relational health, physical health), but for the sheer AMOUNT of things I did in one day.
I was encouraged it didn’t feel exhausting. I wasn’t worn out by the end of the day - there were some hard things, but overall i was revitalised and refreshed. Little steps on things I’ve been working on throughout lockdown, and little things I didn’t get to do for a few months (like driving into Glasgow and getting my hair done!).
But I thought, I don’t want this to “feel normal” in the sense that I’m going backwards to what it used to be.
I was amazed by each one. I was amazed I chose to read a good book and listen to some solid podcasts and have the mental space to think about how they apply to me. I was amazed at the simplicity and beauty of stopping by to visit a friend. The wonder and excitement of actually getting my hair done. The choice to ring the friend for what could have been a really hard conversation but ended up being a healthy and refreshing one.
And “normal” would have felt like presuming on these. Of course you can visit someone. Of course you can go into their house. Of course you get your hair done when the silver is coming in. Of course , of course.
But there’s no ‘of course’ anymore. And I don’t think I want there to be.
I will begin to settle into new patterns, and some of them will be familiar. I didn’t have to think very hard about driving into Glasgow - it didn’t feel weird, or strange. I went into a sort of auto pilot and got on the motorway and turned off the motorway at the correct junction and parked in the parking garage I always use. It wasn’t mind blowingly new.
But if my goal is for everything to feel “normal”, to feel like it used to, then have I really learned anything? Am I going forward, or going backward?
When this all started four months ago, I felt really unsure about the concept of “going back to normal”. I had an idea in my mind this wouldn’t just be a few weeks or a few months. I felt like the world as we knew it was changing - maybe subtly, maybe in small ways - but disruption was happening.
And disruption is not a tidy little concept for TED talks or a new app or product by a tech company.
We talk about the disruption of the motor car and how it edged out horses and carriages. The disruption of the mobile phone and handheld devices.
There can be a new and exciting element to disruption: but most of the time, there are scary, hard, difficult, confusing elements too.
A podcast I listened to recently suggested that this is the largest worldwide disruption since World War II. That the last time the entire world was shaken up over something together, so massively, for so long, was 75 years ago.
It certainly feels true: and I still find it hard to be trying to process things while I am going through them. In WWII times, people just did what they had to, and processed it later. (Many of them didn’t really process it at all, they just did the next thing.) There’s pluses and minuses on both sides. Some days I’m weary of reading yet another article, listening to yet another podcast, suggesting how we’re supposed to think or not think. What covid is, or isn’t. What we know, or don’t.
But we are where we are, there’s no going back. And really when I think about it, did we ever have “normal”, anyway? What does that even mean?
What it seems to mean - the way I’ve heard it used especially recently - is, “what I’m used to”.
The things I had. The places I could go. The way I do things.
And all of that is still in confusion.
No, I don’t want to live in a constant state of disruption. Eventually, I’d like to settle into new patterns and not have to think about the mind blowing concept of arranging an appointment at the hairdressers. But there are things I don’t want to go back to, and that’s what I want to be on my guard against. There are things I want to keep, and for me those centre around being honest, and real. Authentic.
Brene Brown says authentic means being the same person no matter who you’re with. Not exactly the same, maybe: you cover different topics or open up a bit deeper with this group of friends or that person, but in the end all of your friends and family and co workers and clients and people you see regularly would tend to use similar words to describe you.
That’s what I want, more than anything. More than I want “normal”.
I want it for myself and for others, and I want to figure out what it means and how to be it.
Because then, no matter what happens, we remain transparent about how we’re really doing. At least so far, people are still doing that, and I love it. When I ask someone how they’re doing, they’ll tell me if they have had a bad day, or have been struggling with anxiety, or they had good news and yet were working through the fear it wouldn’t work out after all.
Maybe that’s why I resist the concept of “normal”: because to me, that included a mask of a different kind. Not the physical kind, but the one where we put on this face for work and that face for home and this face for church and that face when with that one friend….and all the while rushing about without any time to think about who the real me actually is.
I’m still working on it myself, and I trust you are too.
Do you feel like you’re being more your “authentic self” than before? Or is that hard?