The bizarre “new normal”

I think the most bizarre part of the last year, distorted by political malfeasance and upheavals and a worldwide medical crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in at least a century, is how normal day-to-day life still is.

I’m not just talking about a “new normal,” where we get used to the changes that have been wrought by the pandemic – working from home or working in public and constantly concerned about getting infected with COVID-19, not seeing family and friends except by video chats, social media or phone calls for the better part of a year, missing the social interaction of going to a restaurant or bar or just going window shopping.

Some of us been more active than others, of course. We’ve skirted the restrictions, maybe even refused to follow them, showed how full of freedom and individual rights we were by proudly not wearing masks, putting the health of others – and ourselves – ahead of the potential humiliation of having to wear a mask over our mouth and nose.

I’m still very productive at work. I might even suggest that I get more done in my home office than I would if I drove to work and sat in my office there all day. Nobody comes into my office to chat. I get almost no phone calls (emails are another matter, however, but can be dealt with in a more orderly fashion). There’s no water cooler talk, no walking between our campus buildings to meetings, just a quick jump from one Teams or Zoom or GoToMeeting to the next.

But I hate it. And what was initially a new challenge to be overcome has worn thin. At first I couldn’t understand how – or why – we were acting like nothing had really changed. I mean, I understood that our businesses, our organizations, the college where I work, needed to continue. Routine tasks don’t take care of themselves. Now, though, it just seems bizarre. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re so accustomed to this new reality that we hardly mention it anymore. The hole in our social fabric is there, however.

It’s been 327 days since I had a beer. It’s been 318 days since I ate anything I didn’t cook at home. I know I could have gotten takeout or grabbed a six-pack and had one now and then at home. But I’m not a takeout person, I prefer sitting down in a restaurant. And I’ve never been much of a drinker at home; my alcohol consumption more or less requires social interaction, which isn’t possible right now.

Between our toxic political divisions and our continued isolation, I fear we’ll never return to anything close to what we were before. It wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable, and now it feels like all have left is managing our day-to-day details as we navigate our way through a nightmare.