by Roxanne Tellier
People are funny; they want their lives to be interesting and noteworthy, but most of us are good for about 24 hours of novelty before we’re pining for ‘the good old days.’
What’s ‘normal’ anyway? Normal is whatever you believe it is, in your mind, in your life, and in your world. Normal is ‘the usual,” “my regular,” the commonplace, the typical thing that you like to do or say or eat or whatever it is you do in your spare time; I’m not judging.
What it isn’t, is exciting. It’s waking up at the usual time, having my regular breakfast, and then going to work or play in the way I do on a typical day. It’s going to the same places over and over, because you like what they serve, and it’s where “everybody knows your name.”
Before we moved in January, normal for me would have been reaching out to touch the odds and ends that used to live in and on my missing bedside table. Where it’s gone, nobody knows.
But in the bigger picture, on a scale of one to earthquake, my life, and the life of many others, has been less than normal for some time.
We have just celebrated the second anniversary of the onset of COVID-19 regulations, worldwide. Though I’m not sure that ‘celebrating’ is how most of us felt when we thought about two years of fear, discomfort, and hand sanitizer.
Brides Magazine says that “The traditional second-anniversary gift is cotton, making this the prime time to splurge on upgraded bedding or a cozy throw you can use when snuggled up together on the couch.”
Sounds about right. That was pretty much all that anyone did for at least the first twelve months of the plague: overeat and binge watch Netflix. Remember those heady first days, when we all masked up, avoided each other, sterilized anything that didn’t wiggle away from the Lysol spray, and prayed for a vaccine?
In those first few months, that was normal. It was also normal for us to bang pots and pans every night around dinner time, to encourage those health care workers that were (and still are) literally sacrificing their own health to take care of us.
In January 2022, a load of frustrated truckers formed a convoy and honked their horns 24/7 to protest for what they believed to be their rights – which included their right to NOT receive a vaccine – and THAT became normal, for the poor souls in Ottawa who had to deal with what the Convoy wrought, bouncy castles and all.
Over the last half decade, we’ve normalized things which we could never have dreamed of having to deal with. In this I include the disastrous tenure of Trump; a poor beginning to the handling of a once in a century pandemic, and the subsequent whining once a life-saving vaccine became available; an attempted overthrow of the American government in January 2021, followed by something quite similar, if veiled under a web of candy flossed hot tubs, masquerading as ‘freedom’ while demanding a parallel overthrow of the Canadian government in January 2022; and then topped with a drizzle of a Russian attack on Ukraine, completely with threats of nuclear war, that sent many Boomers scurrying to find a school desk to cower under.
So what’s normal, exactly?
Many of life’s aspects, that we would have considered normal pre-COVID, have shown themselves to work for some, but not for others. For a while, it seemed like people realized the importance of community and mutual aid. When we were all pulling together, it did seem like we might be working towards a better normal.
But then, one day, that spirit of working for the common good began to splinter; some leaned into science, embracing vaccines, eager to see a world where everyone could be protected from a virus, while others opted to refuse the serum approved for use by every governmental and health agency in favour of quack cures and unproven placebos.
That was a normal that I really didn’t see coming.
For the majority of North Americans, normal is a world in which we’ve normalized one set of laws for the rich and powerful, and another set of far more extreme laws and punishments for those who are not white, cis, males.
All over the planet, normal is women knowing that they have to dress and behave in approved manners, if they want to avoid being attacked for the crime of being female. And normal is knowing that, if they are beaten, or raped, they cannot be assured that their story will be believed, or that their attacker will face any consequences. Normal is police stations filled with rape kit tests that pile up in storerooms, but are never prioritized for analysis.
Normal is people of colour knowing that there is nowhere that they are completely safe from assault, even in their own beds, in their own homes. Even if they are fleeing from a war, normal is knowing that white citizens will be prioritized in the rush to safety.
Normal is a complete lack of action or attention to the future of a planet where the Arctic temperatures are now routinely higher than the temperature in downtown Toronto.
Normal is watching the world’s richest individuals get richer during the pandemic, while the world’s poorest individuals fell further behind.
What we call ‘normal’ today is what we have decided to call normal. It wouldn’t be normal in any other space or time, but it’s what we’ve become used to living in and with, in order to be part of our society.
The unemployment rate in the United States, at 3.8%, is the lowest it’s been in history. Canada’s rate is 4.2%, and has traditionally been higher than in the U.S. or Europe, mainly because we have a higher proportion of seasonal industries, as well as a higher proportion of population in smaller, more isolated communities.
No matter where we live, there are many who are very nervous about returning to life, as it was defined, pre-COVID. The pandemic and our isolation revealed that our routines of commutes, office work, water cooler small talk, and the like weren’t necessarily conducive to a better quality of life. We discovered that many of us – mostly white collar workers – could work from home, in less rigid conditions that allowed those with physical or mental issues the space to thrive.
This year, 47 million people, mostly millennials, have joined the “Great Resignation” in search of better careers, with higher wages, remote options, and greater flexibility. It must be noted that they are privileged to be in higher end careers; these options are not available for the bulk of those who labour in minimum wage positions.
But for those that have this option, they’ve discovered that time is too precious to spend commuting, and that they want to work for a company that is as committed to finding a work-life balance as they are.
We have collectively learned that the ‘normal’ we are returning to, may not be so normal after all. Some things we can change, but many broad social problems are simply beyond our grasp at this time. For social change to happen, we will have to find a communal force of will in which we all refuse to return to the harmful systems that were highlighted by the pandemic.
To do that, we will need to re-learn the art of working together for a common good.
If we don’t or won’t demand change, we will have wasted what might be our last great opportunity for a societal re-set.