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What is “Normal”?


I know a lot of people who will be bidding 2020 farewell with a sigh of relief, and anticipating a better year to come. From a big picture perspective, both could be perceived as true. The only thing I think we ought to be careful of is in thinking of 2020 as an “abnormal” year, and looking forward to “returning to normal” in 2021.


In a publication I read at the age of 11, I remember the sentence, “Normal isn’t necessarily the same thing as average.” In other words, calling something “normal” covers a very wide spectrum; it isn’t just the point of center, as average is. It may be the “average”, for example, in Japan to have a life expectancy of 81 years, yet many people live much longer, and they are perfectly “normal”; sadly, many others don’t reach this age, and their deaths are also “normal”.


I’d like to look at the year 2020 from a very long and wide perspective. Humanity has seen awful years before – without researching, I’d cite as examples World War II and surrounding years, plague years in Europe in the 10th-15th centuries, and the volcano Krakatoa’s eruption in 1883, which covered large areas with black clouds and disrupted agriculturally vital weather patterns. Human beings throughout history have felt that the year they were going through was “the worst year ever”. It’s true that 2020 saw disastrous changes all over the world, mainly in economy and culture, as COVID-19 forced country after country to take drastic measures, hunkering down, hoping for better days. Perhaps this year was disastrous on a wider scale than others before it; but death comes to us all – so does tribulation.


What exactly is this “normal” we long for? Even before COVID-19 brought whole societies to a shuddering halt, things were changing all the time. We just didn’t notice it because we were swimming inside the changes as a fish swims in water. For example, can anyone pinpoint the year it became “normal” to carry a whole phone and computer in your pocket? It wasn’t always. Now we can choose among half a dozen platforms for non-face-to-face communication, but I remember when there were just two – telephone calls and the postal service. Plenty of people now alive remember those days. “Normal” is of very short duration.


For this reason, saying “return to normal”, in my opinion, is just as inane as saying “Make America Great Again”. What specific greatness are they referring to, and what normal are we referring to? The one where the earth was continually traumatized by the noise of jet planes? The one where everything had to be done by yesterday, with insane deadlines and quotas to be met? The one where some people were hanging on to two or three jobs by the skin of their teeth, while others debated where to buy their twentieth home? The one where strangers were squashed together in public transport, violating crucial biological imperatives?


Many people railed against being cooped up in their homes, and of course there was widespread economic trouble as places of business closed down and jobs disappeared. There’s no denying there was tribulation, and for many, a painful death with no loved ones nearby. But let’s not fall into the trap of comparing this reality with the one we remember from 2019. Something had to give. The world, and the Earth, were bursting at the seams with activity, too many people trying to do too many things. A kind of hysteria prevailed, as I remember. Things are quieter now… and is that bad?


Some people are actually enjoying the slower pace of life now. We have been given a precious opportunity to stop going wide and to go deep. People in lockdown have figured out ingenious ways of passing the time, challenging their kids and pets, and reconnecting with nature. Things like handwork, jigsaw puzzles, drawing, writing, cooking, all the small quiet arts, are being picked up again.


Of course, the “new normal” is irksome, and there are many things we miss. As I have always been a hugger, I miss hugging my friends when I see them. An “elbow bump” just doesn’t cut it. Though I finally remember to bring a mask with me when I go out, I don’t enjoy wearing it (though it does keep my face warm in winter). Events that I counted on, the local festivals, the opera, concerts, have been cancelled one after another. This is sad and frustrating. I live in an isolated area, so I have never partied every night – gatherings with friends were always something of a treat, even more precious now. What do you miss most about life before 2020?


2020 has brought big changes for me, many of which I recounted in this blog. I now live with my husband in a much smaller space, the larger areas of the house being given over to my son and his family. Areas that haven’t seen the light of day for decades have been turned upside down, some don’t physically exist anymore, and the objects within have to be sorted and new homes found for the things we wish to keep. Meanwhile, a whole household’s worth of things has moved in along with the young people. Construction has begun in some places; house traffic patterns have changed; sharing facilities such as bath and laundry occasionally leads to difficulties. I said goodbye to my last paying job this year, and also to my mother, who passed away last month in Arizona at the age of 100.


Yet I can see, among the changes, some grounds for hope. We are all still healthy and the isolation of our area means fewer COVID cases. The kids go to school and make new friends. We can go to the store and buy what we need. We can contact people and do many things online. And above all, in the sky right now, we can see a portentous astronomical event -- the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius, which has not been seen for over 800 years. Many think this event ushers in the Age of Aquarius, which we ageing hippies have been looking forward to for a long time now! Of course, these astrological ages are very slow-moving, and it’s said that the real Age of Aquarius will not be under way for another 2-300 years. We are in transition now. Nothing is “normal” or will be so for quite a while. We may never go back to “normal” as we remember it… but that “normal” life was only a few years old if that. I think it would help if we stop thinking about 2020 as “abnormal”, but more as like the chaos of a ploughed field, which has the potential to grow any number of wonderful things. I hope I live to see some of them.


Best wishes to you for a good holiday season and a fulfilling 2021.

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