This last year we have been living in some bizarre world of isolation and fear. We yearned to get “back to normal,” whatever that meant. Slowly, it’s happening.
The skies over Beijing have once again begun to reach toxic pollution levels. The waters, which were starting to heal themselves, are filling with the plastic of our face masks, gloves and the like. Today we see the 20th mass shooting in just two weeks. It seems we have gotten our wish; things truly are returning to normal. But are we better off?
Here’s the deal. While the pandemic did bring isolation and loss and fear, it also taught us the gift of the relationships we so dearly missed. It taught us that it's OK to read a book and not be on the run 18 hours a day. Families were eating together and not microwaving Hot Pockets in a frenzy to whatever evening activity they were already late for. We actually paid attention to our children’s education in ways we should have all along. We talked about stress and mental health and the toll this was taking on our neighbors. We reminded each other to check in on those who lived alone or were at risk. We thanked cashiers and first responders and health care workers.
That’s the point. COVID-19 was not something I ever want to go through again. But it did teach some important lessons, if we are willing to stop and listen. That “normal” we are so anxious to get back to was never normal to begin with. It was dysfunction.
It's not normal to value things over people. It's not normal to be so busy that we can’t remember the last time we ate together as a family. Our kids shouldn’t be over-stressed all the time. Life shouldn’t feel like the hamster wheel we can never escape. Our environment shouldn’t have to scream in pain to get our attention. Let me say it again: That normal was never normal to begin with. It was sick. WE were sick. And we have the chance to start again and be healthier and kinder to ourselves, our environment and each other. I pray we are smart enough to listen to the lessons and learn. A new normal awaits us if we do.
The Rev. Dr. Rob Apgar-Taylor is pastor of Grace United Church of Christ in Frederick