In my nearly four decades on earth, I’ve adjusted to my fair share of New Normals. Be it post-Columbine, post-Oklahoma City Bombing, post-9/11, or anything else, the meaning of “life as we know it” has shifted too many times for me to ever consider it concrete anymore. And life post-COVID-19 outbreak will be another major adjustment.
Just as there has been in the aftermath of every other mass casualty event in this country, there will be an abundance of caution as we reemerge to life outside of shelter-in-place or quarantine. The difference with this tragedy is that we still haven’t reached the definitive end. For many of us, reopening the economy feels a bit like getting back on the Titanic while the crew is still patching up the hull.
Is that water collecting around our feet a sign that the ship is still sinking, or just the residual water from the impact?
But even after we are past our initial wariness, we will all eventually realize that some aspects of our lives have forever changed. Some of us will have lost family members and friends, and will be forever haunted by not being able to say goodbye properly. Others will have seen careers dissolve and dreams fundamentally altered. Students everywhere will grieve the premature loss of milestone memories like prom and graduation. Even our kids who weren’t on the brink of a major educational transition may trust the certainty of a school year a little less now.
When it comes to resuming our pre-outbreak lives, maybe the question isn’t when things will return to “normal.” Maybe the question is what kind of normal we will be creating. There are people we took for granted (*cough* teachers *cough*) whose jobs we will hopefully value exponentially more. There are industries we depended on that were more precarious than we could have ever imagined. Flexible business models and plans to protect workers do not seem as optional as they did before.
The ways that we can stay connected have multiplied.
As much as it felt like the constant presence of Zoom challenged my introvert preferences, video conferencing exposed the importance of in-person interaction. Of course, work meetings changed shape and format, but virtual playdates, happy hours, and birthday parties also became a very real possibility for us. My prayer is that this translates to the deepening of relationships with our friends near and far, without the further encroachment of work life into home life.
After ensuring the health and safety of my family and myself, my next order of business will be finding a new balance. Going from being over-scheduled to being nearly housebound in a matter of days was practically whiplash-inducing. On the one hand, having extra time to spend with my spouse and children created opportunities for stronger bonds and richer conversations. On the other, it became immediately clear how much my children thrived on regular time with their peers, classmates, and teammates. So going forward, I hope to retain our deeper family bonds while also restoring the character-building and circle-expanding elements of their former worlds.
We don’t know what “outside” will eventually look like, but we do have a hand in creating it.
No matter our individual experiences during social distancing, we have all been changed in some way. Whether or not we use those changes to create a better world, in whatever sense that means, for ourselves and our children is up to us.