It was a chilly morning as I walked into the bank, my jacket zipped up tight. My face was obscured by the paper mask, and I couldn’t help but remember seeing the signs back in the good old days of 2019 on most bank doors asking customers to remove sunglasses and hoodies before entering. And given my strange sense of humor (I don’t have enough money to be eccentric, and I’m generally too nice to be weird), I had to resist an almost physical impulse to change my voice and demand my withdrawal in unmarked nickels. I didn’t, of course; I just chuckled about it to myself as the teller slid a withdrawal slip and a pen across the counter, insisting I keep the pen when I was done.
My bank is inside another store, which is convenient for the most part, so I quickly rounded up my supplies of cat food, coffee and bacon, among other things. But the almost surreal aspect of the world of COVID-19 preyed on my mind as I pushed my cart between the aisles. So many things have drastically changed in such a relatively short time. Patterns of behavior have through necessity been altered to accommodate what passes for “normal” these days. For instance, not once was I forced to stop while people blocked the aisles to speak with one another, kids hanging off the sides of their carts or pulling random items off the shelves. People seemed to avoid one another as if they had the plague.
Today we are all straining at the bit of the new normal; but what does normal truly mean? Psychology tells us that normal is merely what 60% of any given population will accept without too much resistance. This explains a lot from parachute pants to polyester leisure suits, and is usually fueled by whoever yells the loudest that this thing or that thing is the end all, be all until suddenly it is “normal” for everyone to have it, do it, think it. But I wonder if the fashionistas who once hailed polyester as the paragon of style are still shouting its praises from the rafters above the catwalks.
Now that wasn’t really a slam against fashion, but it does make a point. Popular and normal are subject to change. In the past several months the “normal” we were used to experiencing on a day to day basis has been undeniably altered. And though for most of us this has been monumentally inconvenient, to say the least, it does provide us with a somewhat unique opportunity. Our normal was (for the best of reasons) disrupted, so why not take this time to examine what that normal really was? And it should be fresh in our minds because we didn’t gradually change it. We didn’t ask for a new normal, after all.
But like it or not, we are going to get one.
I suppose it is up to each of us to decide if the normal we had before was working for us. We will need to go back to work, because life requires money, so employment of some sort will be a given. But what about entertainment, education and extracurricular activities? Some we miss and some we don’t, but they were all part of our normal last year. And what about the way we treat other people? Was our normal way of doing that working out for us? Or anyone else? Might take some thought, I admit. Most things normal or not are a matter of choice, and that is a question of each person’s decisions. If we wish to return to the frenetic pace we operated at before, then it is up to us.
Still, I have seen a new trend beyond the face masks and the social distancing and this one might bear consideration. We might want to carry this one with us as we make our way into the future and the new normal that goes with it. In the middle of all the face masks, the gloves and the startled reactions when someone sneezes, I have seen people develop the habit of thinking about what is good for other people. Humans actually can be considerate when they stop and think about it. They can help each other out and look out for other people’s needs. Now that is a trend worth following.
Hopefully if there is one thing we have picked up during the pandemic, one habit we have developed, it is that one. And of all the things we carry out of our homes into the “new” normal, that should be on the top of the basket. It may not happen overnight, but the “old” normal didn’t, either. And like I said, we have the advantage now of building the new normal one step at a time. We might want to take our time and do it right.