Botticelli. Birth of Venus. Wikimedia Commons.
“We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the earth, a new experience of being human.”
August 2020: We have surfaced, tentatively, from the depths of lockdown, cautiously blinking in the sunlight, as if coming out of hibernation.
Prairie dog. Aaron Siirila. Wikimedia Commons.
As we emerge, we know that there is no guarantee we will not have to return to lockdown, quarantine, isolation.
Already, some of us, in Britain have had to scurry back inside, as fiendish spikes of Covid-19 puncture our fragile confidence that this thing might end, sometime…….
Living with such spikes, such sudden lockdowns, travel bans and unexpected quarantine periods, is surely going to be part of the new normal, for some time ahead. Uncertainty will increase as a result of these changes.
Since March this year, our world has altered dramatically. Aspects of our lives, previously taken for granted, have suddenly altered, or disappeared:
- Now the old normal has become dangerous.
People walk around in masks, some wear gloves, and we dodge them as we pass in the street.
Others seem not to be aware of the new normal, clinging laughingly to the old ways, the old normal, seemingly oblivious that they are risking lives in the process.
I saw a man waiting in a queue of people, who took his mask off to sneeze into the air…..
Evening on Karl Johan Street. Munch. Wikimedia Commons.
- In a matter of weeks, the ordinary has become the extraordinary. What is this new world into which we have emerged? There are already some dramatic changes to accept. It is hard. We did not ‘sign up’ for this.
There are so many differences, with more people working from home, meeting on Zoom. Now people are travelling in different ways, shopping online.
There are considerable losses for us all to manage; many have lost family members to this dreadful virus, lost their jobs, their businesses. Areas such as leisure, sport and education have been dramatically affected.
We can no longer shake hands with or hug those we do not live with, we socially distance in restaurants and hotels, and often now exercise at home.
We can communicate on Zoom, but on there we are shrunk, coordinated, labelled, standardised, flattened and modified to screen size, half-bodied, muted, unmuted, timed, framed, processed, planned and resized into a controlled, boundaried, square.
What we really want is to be expanded and expansive, to grow, to be with, to socialise in a proper sized room with lifesize people, not to be staring at a small image of ourselves as we converse with them.
For centuries, there have been large parties, dinners, balls, gatherings. It is a human need to be together in groups and eat, meet, celebrate. For now, that is the old normal, a ‘normal’ that stretches right back through time.
Menzel. The Dinner At The Ball. 1878. Wikimedia Commons.
Today, with Zoom birthday parties, quizzes, interviews, exams, lectures, lessons and meetings, our lives are being metamorphosised into the virtual, a series of prolonged video calls. We are becoming products of Zoomification.
But how would we manage without it? In this time of Coronavirus, Zoom has helped so many of us to safely keep in touch. There is developing an acceptance of this fact, that it is largely through computer technology that people communicate at present.
- There Are Already Changes In Our Language.
Language always reflects human change, and now this, too, is developing in a new direction, so much so that the Oxford English Dictionary is updating its coverage.
Words and phrases that we would have used differently at the beginning of 2020, or new ones entirely, are moving language in a different direction. Some that may have been used occasionally before this are now heard on a daily basis. They are becoming a linguistic part of the new normal.
Here are some of the keywords and phrases that have emerged over the past few months:
furlough, new normal, shielding, elbow bump, stay safe, Covid-19, Coronavirus, spike, viral load, pandemic, face covering, PPE, lockdown, quarantine, the virus, social distancing, NHS Heroes, balcony singing, home schooling, R-number, pre-Covid, hand sanitiser, self isolation, community transition, frontline, phased reopening, contact tracing, ventilator, Zoom, asymptomatic, wet market, corona babies, essential travel.
Through the above examples we can see how interconnected are social and linguistic change.
- Could There Be Change For The Better?
At present, we can only speculate about the new normal. It is largely a figment of our imagination.
But people are beginning to wonder, to hypothesise……..
“This virus will leave us entirely newborn people. We will all be different, none of us will ever be the same again. We will have deeper roots, be made of denser soil, and our eyes will have seen things.”
C. JoyBell C.
“If you are looking forward to coming out of lockdown and returning to the old normal, think again. The current situation is tragic, heart-breaking and filled with fear and anxiety. However, there are thin silver linings there if you look for them.
This is our chance to reinvent and create a better world where we can all work, rest and play in the new normal. We cannot re-write the chapters of history already past, but we can learn from them, evolve and adapt. The new normal may even be a better normal, certainly a different normal.”
There are certainly people who are convinced that we will be very different….Who knows how things will turn out?……
“When the internet came along, everybody said it would mean the death of television, newspapers. There is a dip, and it comes back to a new normal. We’re in the dip; we’re waiting to see what the new normal is.”
I wonder how many of us really believe that somehow, after this, we will be reborn? Could this pandemic trigger a better normal, or will we just revert when things eventually settle?
What Will The Possibility of Renewal Likely Involve?
- We May Feel More Appreciation Generally
Perhaps, after this experience, we may not be inclined to take things so much for granted and appreciate what we have, even the small things:
- We Could Resolve to Change Ourselves And The World Around Us.
“The possibility of renewal exists so long as life exists. How to support that possibility in others and in ourselves is the ultimate question.”
“Through each crisis in my life, with acceptance and hope, in a single defining moment, I finally gained the courage to do things differently.”
Sharon E. Raine
Change is hard, and it does take resilience and courage to face what might lie ahead of us. When this pandemic is, finally, through, there will be a transition period, and new beginnings.
How will we move on into the new normal? All is uncertain at present, and coping with that uncertainly can be hard.
We wait, in hope, perhaps, that there will be a vaccine, a cure for Covid-19, or that it will die out naturally.
Yet we cannot know what will happen, personally, globally. Maybe we have ideas, even plans, about how we will change and how our life will be, afterwards.
- We Might Hold Onto The Increasing Awareness Of The Importance of Community.
Our interdependence has been highlighted by this pandemic; we really do need each other for our survival. We are all in this together.
Might we hold onto this new awareness of what can happen in a community sense? For we can support and care for each other more, as we very evidently have done in the time of Coronavirus.
People have been keeping in touch with family and friends in a way that has proved beneficial. Despite the distancing, many people have actually felt closer, even though their contact may have been online.
Very soon into lockdown, many pubs, restaurants, religious and charitable organisations, community centres and food banks arranged for the distribution of food for people in their area.
Unhesitatingly, they showed inclusive, collective care when it was most needed.
Munch. Death In The Sickroom. Wikimedia Commons.
- We must develop ways of thinking that are based on the empowerment of communities and the concept of interconnectedness, rather than separateness.
It could be that, having felt frightened, unsettled and uncertain ourselves during this crisis, we might learn to have show empathy in the future towards others trapped in different kinds of difficult situations.
“Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.”
- We have a choice. We do, to a large extent, make our own futures, we are in charge of and responsible for our lives.
- We Might Continue To Develop A Greater Awareness of Nature.
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
Many have noticed that there is a slower pace to their lives as a result of lockdown and that this was a much needed change.
There is less pollution from vehicles, the air is cleaner. We have experienced nature as never before, more clearly, relating to it more intimately.
Whatever happens, we can never go back to how things were. There has to be some change after this trauma.
Could we all focus on maintaining our new links with the natural world, appreciating its beauty, protecting it from further damage?
Maybe we can continue to find peace, comfort and escape through nature, as many of us have over the past few months.
Camille Pissarro – Garden and Henhouse at Octave Mirbeau, Les Damps Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr
Edvard Munch – Elm Forest in Spring  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Wendell Berry, “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.” Goodreads.