the new normal

I got a message from a friend the other day. She was spun up, and asking “Why do people keep saying this is our new normal?? What does that even mean? I don’t want this to be the new normal. Does this mean it will be normal to not hug people?”

I understood why she felt so panicky. I’ve felt that too, and I’ve heard the words “new normal” thrown around quite a bit over the last couple of months.

It reminded me of the first time I heard or at least paid attention to the words. Years ago, a perfectly normal day suddenly changed when I got a call from my best friend. She was calling me from the pediatrician’s office, and something was wrong with her daughter Emma’s bloodwork. I went to the doctor’s office to meet her, and by the time the day had ended her daughter was in the hospital with a leukemia diagnosis. It was sharp and sudden and totally life-changing.

A week or so later I was staying with her infant son at a hotel down the street from the hospital so my friend could be as close as possible to both children. One night as we were in the hotel room having dinner together, she pulled up an email she had received from her mom. Her mom, a cancer survivor herself, tried offer reassurance by saying, “you will settle into your new normal.”

My friend and I both balked. We were still shaken and scared about everything that had happened in such a short time. Things felt totally out of control. We didn’t know if her daughter would live or die. We didn’t want any part of what was happening to be “normal”. We wanted to be delivered from the hell we were suddenly finding ourselves in.

Normal? No thank you.

Weeks went by, and Emma stabilized. She came home from the hospital with a new routine of chemo, visiting nurses, hand washing, and very limited exposure to other people. Just about three years or so after her diagnosis, Emma got a clean bill of health, and has been healthy ever since.

In the end, my friend’s mother was right. Their family did have a new normal, and while that “normal” came with quite a bit of stress and some new ways of living their daily lives, they found their rhythm. Some days were harder than others. Many days had tremendous joy. Some days were just boring. So, you know – it was life.

Since then, life as they know it has resumed to mostly the way it was before cancer. (Or it had, until the pandemic) But some things never went back to how they had been. I can assure you my friend and her children knew how to wash their hands long before the videos started circulating on our Facebook feeds in late February. And they are vigilant about certain things – eating healthy foods, regular wellness checks, and monitoring fevers, for example. And mostly they never, never take having healthy children for granted. They have a profound appreciation for health, and life, and family.

When we talk about this “new normal” in life after corona-virus, I find myself thinking about my friend and her family. I think, understandably, hearing the suggestion that this is our “new normal” when many of us are still under stay at home orders is just coming too soon. We can’t consider this “normal”, nor should we. We are still living in the emergency stage of this virus.

I am hopeful that as we know more about the virus, and as we learn how to co-exist safely together, that we will find our new normal. I think it will look different than what we had, and I think the new normal is likely to last longer than we’d like. I think “normal” will come with stress, and new was of living. I think we’ll have some days that are harder than others, days that bring great joy, and days that are boring.

And then at some point (God willing) things will start to look a little more like they did before. But maybe (hopefully) with some permanent change as well. Like, we’ll all be really good about washing our hands. And we won’t take health for granted. And we’ll appreciate our friends, and family, and life a little more than we did before.

In the meantime, if someone suggests there’s a new normal, and that sends you into a panic? Go ahead and dismiss it. It just means you aren’t there yet. At some point in the future you’ll wake up and say “you know what? This is starting to feel normal.” Doesn’t mean that the new normal isn’t sad, it just means we’ve adapted to living in it. We’ll get there. I’m sure of it.

Emma and her mom and brother sharing a moment of joy in their new normal.

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