The constant refrain of 2020 has been the question, “When will things get back to normal?”
This is the obvious question when you think about all that has been rearranged and upended during a strange and difficult time. Sports canceled, school turned upside down. You have to wear a mask everywhere. When will this be over, so we can get back to normal?
Of course, there are normal things that never faltered, and nothing draws our attention to the things that haven’t changed. The normal that perseveres does not scream for attention - especially the good stuff we take for granted.
For example, safe drinking water. Throughout human history, and in many places to this day, the water available for drinking might be a source of pestilence for families and communities. Americans rightly expect their faucets offer safe hydration. This is the way it should be, but it really is a big deal. It’s an aspect of normal life, that doesn’t happen automatically – it’s the result of impressive, collective effort for the common good – and it has not changed during this disruptive time.
In certain things, we don’t need to ‘get back to normal,’ because we never lost the normal.
On Monday, eastern Iowa and northern Illinois were hit by an extraordinary storm – the Derecho! – which unleashed hurricane-strength winds and caused enormous damage in our region. As the winds subsided, the streets of our neighborhoods were filled by neighbors helping one another arise from the debris. Yards and front doors covered by fallen branches were cleared. A block’s worth of able-bodied men came out to move a tree blocking the street. As 12, 24, 48, 72 hours without electricity unfolded, neighbors, invited one another to share the light and the charge stations and the deep freezers that were still working. People came out to help as you’d expect. It was quite ordinary in that way.
Kindness and neighborliness are normal. Compassion and generosity are normal. Good people being good – there is nothing in the world more normal than that.
It is true that the pandemic has messed a lot of stuff up. And there are some things that Covid-19 has changed forever. But there are some things the coronavirus hasn’t changed, even temporarily.
People care, people help.