“How rich is anyone who can simply see human faces!” penned Corrie ten Boom. And yet, how much we take such simple things for granted. At least, we took them for granted before 2020. Passersby smiling at one another. Children’s rosy cheeks aglow as they rush to school. Facial expressions accompanying the words. Things we once considered normal. But this year, we have been plunged into a “new normal.” Masked faces surround us and once again we are learning the value of seeing human faces – exposed, expressive faces.
And yet, how easy it seems to get used to new normals. People adapt rather quickly to new circumstances. The child who moves to a new country at first finds his new surroundings strange, but before long, he has mastered the new language and customs. The wife who becomes a widow grieves deeply and intensely; even so, with time, she has adjusted to her new routines. It is so with all the changes we face in life. New friendships, new locations, new jobs, new schools, new babies, new losses, new griefs. In no time at all, we have adjusted. The memories of times past might resurface and bring with them either joy or sorrow, but nevertheless, life goes on and we adjust to the rhythm of our new normal. This adjustability is a blessing. It gives us the ability to move beyond the deepest sorrow, pain, and anguish and find new meaning and new joys in life.
This adjustability can also be a curse, bringing with it the tendency to get used to things we should never get accustomed to. It is what enabled thousands to see their fellow humans on the auction block without raising an eyebrow. It is what enables us to see injustices, poverty, and oppression while we live comfortably on. What we are surrounded by from day to day – the common – so easily becomes what we accept as normal.
In the last year, our world has changed almost beyond recognition. Things we once took for granted feel like a dream of long ago. Unrestrained hugs at greeting. Children at the playgrounds, running, bouncing, howling for joy. Hosting friends for supper. Holidays–the real kind; crowded, noisy, full of good food and loved ones we haven’t seen in a while. Handshakes after a business deal. Unobstructed travel. A room brimming with melodious voices worshiping in unison. A plethora of stores – open, stocked, without restrictions. Not even a year ago, these things were normal, taken completely for granted.
How this world has changed! Hugs and kisses, once dispensed spontaneously and abundantly, are now given only with permission, cautiously. The playgrounds, at one time brimming with squealing children, are taped off like condemned danger zones. School hallways are deserted. Livelihoods are lost as many businesses and establishments are shut down; those that are still open are operating with everchanging restrictions. Curfews are imposed on the masses. Multitudes live in house arrest, only allowed to enjoy the fresh air and blue skies for an hour a day. Friends and family are banned from entering our homes. We, in turn, are blocked from visiting our loved ones, even if they might be on their deathbeds. When they die, their funerals are lonely, empty, and quick. And should there be anyone who dissents from the mainstream narrative or raises a voice in protest, they are promptly censored, ridiculed, snitched on, fined, or arrested.
We might be tempted to believe such things only exist in nightmares or perhaps in stories from communist countries in times long past, but, alas! – we are reminded persistently that this is indeed our new reality – our “new normal.”
Is it any surprise then that the world is filled with fear, despair, and anger? The number of people suffering from depression and anxiety before the pandemic was already alarming. Under this new normal, the numbers have only increased dramatically. It is no wonder that crime, homicides, suicides, overdose deaths, and domestic violence have all escalated significantly as well. As was said by Dr. Matt Strauss, “When you deprive children of their education, adults of their livelihood, and elderly people of their social connection, desperation and despair quickly set in.”[i]
There are many who feel death is better than living in our present reality. Some are choosing doctor-assisted deaths rather than live through another lockdown. Having survived and adjusted to the many changes, heartaches, and disappointments that life has a way of presenting to each of us, they feel that life is no longer worth the fight under the present circumstances. Thus, rather than adjusting to this new normal, they choose to die.
While not choosing to die, we too refuse to adjust to this new normal. It may be our tendency to get used to what we see day after day and let what is common become our normal, but we must never allow ourselves to be conditioned to this world’s present state. We must refuse to live in a world where we are separated from each other, where fear prevails, and where our human liberties are stripped from us. It is simply not human to live off of virtual kisses because everyone is afraid to get close to their fellow man. We need each other! Thus, we refuse to adjust. Not out of senseless, stubborn rebellion; but love for our fellow man compels us to reject this “new normal.” We dare not adapt!