Normal has been our idolized destination since we unknowingly departed from all things familiar this past spring.
I can’t blame us. We had it pretty good, most of us; and even those of us who had it worse knew where to find our comfort. We could eat out, dance next to a hundred sweaty strangers at a concert, or care for even our most frail family members without fearing we might accidentally kill them with a cough.
Now we walk around with faces covered, afraid to touch, breathe on, or stand next to someone. Eggshells abound as we navigate everyone’s own comfort level amidst a crisis more defined by uncertainty than anything else.
I love people. I love connecting with strangers over a smile and a glance. I love speaking and hearing unmuffled words and feeling the intimacy of breath. I love hugs and handshakes and high fives. I miss those things, and I miss the ubiquitous culture of physical connection that has been so critically important to us as humans for eons.
If you’re like me, you see these specters from our past as lighthouses marking the shores to which we will one day return. They are translucent angels dancing amongst our collective memory of a complex and familiar society.
If you’re like me, you also wonder, however, if those specters from our past are less like lighthouses or angels and more like sirens. They haven’t changed, though.
No part of what has defined our past has become any different amidst this pandemic. Our old ways of being, our familiar comforts, and our past joys are still exactly the same as they’ve always been.
What has changed over the last several months is us. It’s you. It’s me. It’s the eyes through which we experience the world.
You are the reason we can’t go back to how things were. So am I. We are so different from who we were.
For the first time in history, the global community was forcibly stripped of everything to which we had clung so dearly. We were robbed of our clothing and our armor and set down in front of a mirror blazingly clean and merciless, and made to recognize ourselves for who we are rather than what we do.
Call me an optimist, but I believe in the potential of humanity, and specifically, the capacity of people to grow, change, and evolve in ways that surprise me. I also believe that if a person finds themselves in extraordinary circumstances, they adapt in extraordinary ways.
So when I consider the grief and trauma we’ve been through as a people, I have no choice but to acknowledge the positive growth that has come from these extraordinary changes to our Normal.
Never before have we been more attuned to the subtle communications which emanate from the eyes.
Never before have we been more aware of personal space.
Likewise, never before have we been more conscious of seeking consent to enter someone else’s.
In no other time period have we been more grateful for the physical intimacy we do receive.
But there’s more: We are all collectively raw.
We are vulnerable amidst our grief and trauma. And yes, sometimes this manifests as edginess, bitterness, even vitriol. But beneath that initial response, we are actually beautifully, unprecedentedly open. Our defenses may be high, but it is only because we have begun to realize what treasures we guard. And I’ve found that when I’m willing to lovingly penetrate to that place of hurt and fear and make it known that I am here to love, the depth I achieve with even the vilest of strangers is surprising.
So here we are, newly open, still bleeding, and wanting for a comfort we think we miss. But I don’t believe we’ll find our old haunts as soothing as we expect them to be. We are no longer the same seekers. We are more conscious, more in-tune with ourselves and others, and more aware of who we are when we are not what we do.
I long for the day when our masks come off and we burn them together in a bonfire in the middle of town.
I yearn for the return of commonplace physical intimacy and connection.
But I don’t think I want to go back to how things were. And even if we do get there, I don’t think we’ll stay for very long. Because we are more whole than we used to be, and the depth we seek cannot be found in the shallow graves of our past.