When I was studying psychology in college, one of my courses was “Abnormal Psychology.” Now I can’t remember much about it, so I went online to look at a university syllabus. I found the subject was related to clinical psychology and included client counseling, barriers, resistance to professional help, and repairing fractured relationships. Then I remembered: six weeks into the semester I wasn’t sure what it was like to be “normal” and if I had ever been that way. Some people who know me have speculated ever since.
Recently, a person wrote online that he did not like the expression, ”the new normal” because it indicated that things might not return to “normal.” But what is “normal” for us? Did things seem more “normal” because we knew what to expect from day to day? Did we know what would happen “normally” because we were in a routine, perhaps even a repetitious one? How is the “new normal” different from the old?
One major difference for many people is that, if they are fortunate enough to continue to work, it is done from their home. Also, when they go out, it has been alone or in small groups and they wore face masks and practiced social distancing. But, hopefully, all that will change. Will we then be back to “normal” again.
In the new normal, there will be surprises, just as there were in the old normal. Although we cannot know what will happen, we should prepare, to some extent, for the unexpected. We can pray for a mindset that allows us God’s peace in new circumstances, even when buying groceries, toilet paper. or obtaining food from a person not behind a barrier.
We talk about a new normal because COVID-19 suggests that we will function “differently” in the future. Despite our best hopes and dreams, experts inform us that the virus will not suddenly leave and then we will return to normal. Normality suggests the freedom of hugging and crowding, being calm around people not wearing face masks, walking next to strangers, buying fewer rolls of toilet paper, and seeing that gas is less than $3.00 a gallon.
If we have church outside, that will not be normal and if we have it inside that may not be normal either. Normal is what we once did on a regular basis without thinking too much about it. Now we think about washing our hands more than we used to, staying a little further away from strangers and probably buying more toilet paper than we need.
The new normal will be something like going to live in a different culture and learning a strange language. Depending on our motivation, we will either learn the new language and culture or we will become cynical and critical about it. We may complain and resort to our cultural practices and language. After all, we may think, “That’s not the way we used to do it,” or “We can say it better in English.” There are always things that shock us when we go to another country to live but, to make friends, we must observe and learn, even as we make mistakes.
Here is an example of an early language mistake that Joice made: the words for “man” and “husband” are very close phonetically in the language we were learning in rural Papua New Guinea. Culturally, in the village in which we were living it was not appropriate for a woman to say a man’s name, so for a few months, my wife called every male “husband” when she meant to say “man.” The people may have laughed when they got home, but they were tolerant in helping her because they appreciated her efforts. I made a lot of mistakes too, but that is another (longer) story.
We learned the West Kewa language (actually, East Kewa and Tok Pisin as well) because we were motivated to show God’s love and translate His word. Our enthusiasm and humor carried us through many tough spots. I would hope that the same thing will happen in the new normal even if we bump elbows or give a thumb’s up instead of shaking hands. We can also pray silently for people when we hear them sneeze or cough, instead of staring at them. And for those who wear face masks, we can learn to recognize their voices.
In time, the new normal may become normal again.
No longer counting the days and
Still staying 6 feet away from y’all