I keep hearing, from all kinds of people, “when this is over, I can’t wait to go back to normal.”
This is a deeply distressing time, & I understand the sentiment. I miss so many friends, I’m disappointed about all the events I can’t attend, I miss living in NYC & my daily routine—surely after this, I can just go back?
I don’t think so, but I also hope not.
It’s been wild to realize as I’ve gotten older that I have been growing up in a world in crisis. In the US, supposedly the most advanced country, it’s hard to think of a system that’s not in crisis. From abortion access to zoos, climate collapse to dairy farming to education to forest fires to gun control, foster care to garbage collection to hospital bills to immigration to the justice system, it seems like every system around us has been in a varying degree of panic, breakdown, shambles, inequity, & non-sustainability for as long as I can remember.
When we “go back” to the world, it seems more likely we’re returning to a worse version of our former world. Millions dead around the world, a huge percentage of small businesses & restaurants gone forever, cultural trauma, health insurance executives even richer. Access to abortion isn’t going to be fixed when we go back, it’ll be even tougher after pregnant people have been restricted from accessing it for months. But eventually we will “go back,” & we should build that world to be better, or more okay, as much we can.
Critically, normal wasn’t working. Normal was destroying the habitat we live in, normal was abusing poor people & immigrants, normal was an unjust system with an expiration date. Normal was most Americans not enjoying their livelihoods, normal was most students unengaged in classrooms, normal was sending young Black men to prison over nothing. It was only okay because it was normal, not because it was okay. Sure, (the richer) segment of the population was able to enjoy their lives, but the average American satisfaction with life was an embarrassment for the richest country in the history of the world. We could be doing so much better. We have the resources to be happy & healthy, just put in all the wrong places.
This is a reset, a moment for (the more privileged) of us to step back from the cacophony of daily life. (Though we’re also dealing with the stress & anxiety of being in a crisis & waking up every day to more deaths, higher chart-topping stats, more family members infected, more economic uncertainty, etc.) When we see our former society in the mirror, much of it is showing its rotting core. Normal was prison labor, normal was inhibited carbon emissions, normal was toxic air for poor people, normal was manipulating benefits away from gig workers. These are all entirely solvable problems, but they weren’t being solved effectively.
We can’t return to normal, nor should we. Normal wasn’t working, even if this temporary space is worse. Everything, from a deep level, is long overdue for systematic rethinking & rebuilding. When the shuttered doors reopen, that’s the space we’ll return to: one of deep, if inequitable, re-evaluation. U.S. Bank executives will be fine, but the rest of us will be forced to re-examine every facet of our lives as we rebuild them. It’s my greatest hope we build something better.