Betwixt and between: The delusion of normal

Here in the United States, the season of holiday madness is upon us as our leaders and corporate overlords steadily push us to resume “normal,” even as we globally enter our second year of the pandemic. 

At first glance, to casually walk down the street, it’s easy to momentarily forget that we are even living in the midst of a historic life- and world-changing event. As many of the earlier pandemic precautions have faded away, what I see is that in many locales—including my state—social distancing and mandatory masking are no longer a thing, though it is suggested that people do mask up. Even the ubiquitous hand sanitizers have started to disappear. Restaurants and bars are often at capacity, and the only issue they seem to be struggling with is finding enough employees willing to risk their lives to serve an increasingly unhinged and uncivilized populace. 

The kids are back in school, and engaged in extracurricular activities, though the lack of school bus drivers and other support staff continue to threaten the charade of normal—that, and the weekly cases of COVID that create the need to quarantine. 

Americans have resumed their national pastime of shopping, though the supply chain globally remains fragile. So much shopping is occurring that it almost makes you forget that inflation is happening or that many of our fellow citizens remain at risk for losing their housing as evictions have started to happen again. 

Despite the growing concerns of inflation, the wheels of capitalism continue to churn and our success at “beating” the pandemic is measured by output, productivity and growth rather than humanity. Or the wellness of humans, for that matter. 

Strange thing though: Over 750,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID and untold numbers have had their lives uprooted by the ravaging aftermath of surviving COVID. Even in states such as mine where we are experiencing a COVID explosion despite being one of the most highly vaccinated states in the country, life is going on. The veneer of “normal” looms large. 

Despite our collective trauma and the continuing trauma of a global pandemic, societal expectations are that we are to soldier through this as if nothing life-shattering has occurred. 

In a white supremacist culture driven by the dictates of whiteness and capitalism, we are expected to be fine. The problem is that when the world goes topsy-turvy, where the richest and most powerful country survived an attempted coup by the synophants of our previous leader and where death and misery are daily staples, space has never been made to grieve or deeply acknowledge what we have gone through. Nor space given to what we continue to go through. How exactly are we to be normal? 

How can we manufacture joy over the turkeys and hams without an acknowledgement of the pain and sorrow? Why are we even expected to do so? 

Sure, not every day in the past two years has been a shitshow, but we have gone through some heavy emotional and mental trauma. Stuffing it down isn’t healthy and, frankly, doing so cheapens life. 

Our culture is unhealthy and emotionally stunted as it doesn’t create the space to grieve or heal. As anyone who has suffered deep losses knows, unacknowledged grief and pain will eventually come out. And it often does so unexpectedly and possibly makes your life go sideways, harming you in so many ways if you don’t address it. 

Despite the messages that we are being fed, nothing is normal and daily living in the middle of the pandemic with the virulent Delta variant requires daily vigilance in most locales, despite the fact that we are being told that all we need is to be vaccinated. Vaccines are key, certainly, but staying safe and protecting ourselves requires a multi-pronged approach. That mean vaccines, boosters, mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing at times. But like everything in America, we distill things down to a level so basic that nuance and depth are lost in translation. 

The current state of America isn’t an aberration. It is a reflection of who we are, broken and unable to face reality. Just as we cannot ever fully face our racial history, we seem unable to face the need for a shared humanity where we care enough beyond our personal comfort that we create a healthier space for everyone. 

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Image by Simon Shim via Unsplash