My daughter used to watch a movie called “Mean Girls” on a regular basis. I won’t go into the plot (much), but it was a funny movie even though it isn’t the genre I typically watch. I’m sure I saw the entire movie, broken up in bits and pieces as I walked through the living room and back again, but there was a certain part that stuck in my brain and reminds me of the way people are currently dealing with a pandemic they desperately want to be over.

In short, the movie is about a new girl who starts going to a certain high school. She makes friends with some “nerds” at first, but then ends up in the popular clique of “mean girls” who set the trends and generally make everyone else miserable. But there are stories within stories, always, and the meanest of these mean girls make the less mean ones even more miserable than they make everyone else.

One of these less mean (we’ll call them “meanlings”) girls desperately wants to run the show, or at least be acknowledged as an equal to Queen Mean. To this end she tries to get her caustic group to use the word “fetch” to describe everything that is amazing, wonderful or all around cool. It doesn’t really work out for her — ever — and in fact she ends up becoming the butt of her self-generated meanling joke. In one part, Queen Mean herself actually snaps at her dismissively and tells her to stop trying to make “fetch happen.” Quite mortifying for little meanling Gretchen. Worse still, she never really learns her lesson.

The takeaway from this, of course, is don’t be Gretchen.

Groups like the mean girls (plastics is the name the nerds gave them) are sort of thrown together, and it is never for a good reason. Much like the current pandemic, where we were all thrown into a group we didn’t and would never choose to be a part of. Now honestly, most of us have proven that we are better people than the meanlings — but we still have a Queen Mean. COVID-19 is much nastier than that, even, because not only can it hurt or kill us, it can hurt or kill the people we love; and we can’t escape it any more than poor Gretchen could escape. Unfortunately, our Queen Mean is even less susceptible to persuasion than her frenemy was.

With the recent easing of the strict stay-at-home guidelines and the limited reopening of nonessential businesses, however, many of us are starting to act like Gretchen. We have wanted a return to the “normal” world so badly for so long that we have been pushing “normal” at the edges of the pandemic Queen Mean, hoping it will one day roll over and just say “sure, why not?” And now, when suddenly restaurants and other businesses are starting to ease open, it is easy to forget about everything we have been through and begin to think we might have won. And possibly (hopefully) we might actually be close to the first steps on the road to recovery.

But “normal,” much like “fetch”, isn’t going to happen.

That ship, as they say, has sailed. Not only has it sailed, but the sails are tattered and the hull is leaking. This doesn’t mean that hope is gone, because it most definitely is not. But we need a different boat, and we can’t build a new boat if we are desperately clutching at the one that has gone. COVID-19 is still at pandemic status, and simply behaving as though it is not is merely inviting another spike in cases. We should certainly get out and do the things we are able to do; but taking precautions is a much better alternative than simply ignoring the problem. We need to actually beat COVID-19 before we have start sounding the “all clear” and going on about our business.

We can’t push normal any more than Gretchen could “make fetch happen.” But we most certainly can make a new normal. We can wear masks in public until treatments and a vaccine is discovered. We can social distance until we are sure that hugging our friends and extended family won’t make either of us sick. We can clean like the thought of dirt is a personal affront. And we can worry about our community as though they are depending upon us to do so — because whether they know it or not, they are. And we can have “a” normal when all of this is truly behind us. And maybe, just maybe, all of what we have done and will do is the first step to preventing this from happening again.

Reach CHARLES ROMANS at cromans@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2655.

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