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I once worked in an office building that was on the water, and every corner of the floor had a balcony.
For the most part, the balconies went unused—with mini-blinds pulled down across all the windows to keep the glare of the sunshine off the computer screens.
But sometimes, at the end of a long day, I’d bring my cell phone outside and finish up a call while watching the sun go down. It felt like I was getting away with something, breathing in fresh air while still on the clock.
Until one day, I looked over and saw a handyman installing permanent locks on each of the balcony doors. “For security,” he said. I wondered, security from which direction?
The scariest thing about this pandemic may not be the risk of getting sick or dying (which is to say, meeting an inevitability that only seems in our control). It may be that it has laid bare the fragile facade we’ve built around ourselves of what is normal.
Normal was waking up to an alarm clock, wearing the acceptable business professional costume, and spending the majority of our days staring at screens, so we can make enough money to do what we actually want to do later.
Normal was sending kids to a classroom where they will sit inside most of the day, and be taught to speak when they are called on, and that what matters is the score you made on a test—all in preparation for the ceaseless striving that we call adulthood.
Normal was traffic. Normal was fluorescent lights. Normal was stress. Normal, if you really stopped to think about it, felt pretty abnormal most of the time.
Of course, there is so much of “normal” life that is wonderful. I for one have been missing a lot of things I used to take for granted. The din of a crowded restaurant. Letting my kid loose on a bustling playground. Live music. Hugs.
But for now, while the pandemic forces us to take a long, hard look into the societal mirror, it would serve us well to consider the difference between the good, real stuff and the made-up stuff we keep doing just because.
Nine-to-five. Stuffy suits. Formal conference rooms. Ambitions we’re not even sure are our own. Do they still make sense?
“Normal” is waiting for us, and—good or bad—the comforts of habit will surely lure many of us back into complacent conformity.
But maybe, if we can get really honest with ourselves in this weird space between, we can find a way to open some windows.