Yearning for Normal: time to make some changes.

“It was a time when the unthinkable became the thinkable and the impossible really happened.” 
― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Yearning for Normal was the title of my first book, the story of raising a son with 22q.11 Deletion Syndrome.  An invisible missing fragment of DNA disrupted every aspect of our son’s life physically, mentally, and spiritually.  It also impacted our family and everyone else in our little world. Initially we didn’t know the cause of all his medical, developmental, learning, and psychiatric difficulties. Even after the diagnosis, we contended with many unknowns and uncertainties, often not knowing the best way to handle a new crisis or problem. My husband and I argued a lot. We made many mistakes, and knowing what we know now, would have handled many situations differently.

On the other hand, contending with the deletion changed us all for the better. We learned love and acceptance; patience and forgiveness. We also changed a few little things in our world. Our son was the first developmentally disabled child in our school district to be educated at the local school instead of being bused to a school 25 miles away. That little step opened the door for all disabled children in our school district to be educated close to home.

We never knew ‘normal’. At the end of that book, I concluded that life is good, but it isn’t ever really ‘normal’. Life is improbable and unexpected, full of mystery, suffering, imperfection, surprises, love, and change. In fact, probably the only ‘normal’ thing we can reasonably expect in this life is change…constant change.

Now the world and its peoples are ‘yearning for normal’. (I wish I had saved that title for these days). Covid-19 is an invisible virus disrupting lives and economies in every country in the world and all aspects of society. Chaos reigns. Humans worldwide are collectively groping to confront this new reality, with its unanswered questions and uncertainties.

The world is changing rapidly. Change is painful because it requires dying to the old. Sadly people have died, businesses have died, and old ways of doing things have died.  Millions of people have suffered economic loss and sacrificed so others may live. Jesus told his disciples about a seed that fell to the ground and died, but produced much fruit. (John 12:24). It is possible for good fruit to come from this sorrowful difficult time.

This time of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has been referred to by some as “The Great Pause”. These days of lockdown, from which we are slowly emerging, was an unexpected Sabbath for the world. There have been plagues throughout history, but I don’t know of any time in the history of the world when things worldwide just stopped. In Judeo Christian history, the Sabbath is the day where everything stops and people remember their relationship to God and to each other.

The earth itself has benefitted from The Great Pause. Some previously smog choked cities in the world are enjoying clear blue skies.  The world is vibrating less and wildlife is coming out of hiding.  Will we see similar benefits to humankind as we emerge from the Great Pause?  Even as the skies have become clearer, will our collective vision become clearer? I have hopes and fears. 

‘Normal’ for many holds the hope of going back to the way things were. There is no going back because Covid-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. While this virus has caused illness, it has also unmasked deeper diseases in America. Perhaps we don’t really want to return to the old normal. We accepted too many things as normal that were sick and in need of healing.  

One chronic American disease that coronavirus spotlighted is systemic racism, causing so much suffering to people of color in our society. The recent murders of Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are blatant examples of the underlying inequality and injustice in America. Blacks are suffering the most during this pandemic. More blacks have died from the virus, lost jobs, or had to work on the front lines than whites sheltering comfortably. At times racism is subtle and easily overlooked. A week after news reports showed proportionately more Black Americans dying from Covid-19, white protesters showed up at many state houses demanding an end to the lockdown.

The protests and riots against police brutality hearken back to the race riots of 1968. Things didn’t change as much as they should have 52 years ago. We now have another opportunity to make things right. There is a long tedious journey ahead of us towards the American dream of equal opportunity, a good education, and liberty and justice for all. One hopeful thing is that this time around, whites are protesting along side their black brothers and sisters. Many young people are now woke to the problem of white privilege.

In addition to spotlighting structural racism, Covid-19 makes manifest the growing divisions among Americans between rich and poor, liberal and conservative, men and women, city folk and country folk, and scientists and politicians. We forget that we have more in common than differences among us.

In America, instead of acknowledging our common humanity and uniting as one to fight the virus, the virus itself has become another tool used by the media and by Trump to exacerbate those divisions among us. Lies and disinformation have gone viral. Truth and facts no longer matter. Lies repeated often enough and loud enough become accepted as truth.

Conflict is natural in times of change especially when dealing with so many unknowns and uncertainties. We have just met this virus and circle it warily. We are learning day by day. Down the road, we will be able to see what was done right and the mistakes we made, but no one has that vision today. For now, let us listen to each other, help each other, and forgive mistakes. We are all flying blind.   

Let us not waste this chaotic crisis time in history. My hope is that future generations will look upon the Great Pause as the Great Shift. (Even a little shift would be good. Some changes take time.) Perhaps these days of suffering and dying will birth a new future where the people of the world collectively hop off the merry-go-round, and see all the people on this earth truly as the Beloved of God.

We can start by asking questions such as, “How can we change this place so every human born has access to clean water, clean air, food, a roof over their head, health care, education, and a good livelihood? What benefits do walls and boundaries provide to our collective humanity? How can we welcome refugees, knowing that we are a country of refugees and immigrants? Can we survive on generosity and not greed? Are we able to stop spending billions yearly on war-making machines and wars, and instead invest the money on health care, education, and housing for all Americans?

Is it possible to emerge from the lockdown as our brother’s keepers and break down the walls and barriers between us? Will we take to heart the lesson in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom? “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

I have hopes for a world where we welcome and care for refugees and fix the problems that caused them to flee their homes. Can we create a world where differences are welcomed and dialogue is practiced. The United States needs to become the country that it pretends to be, of equal opportunity and respect for all people, regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religious affiliation. I have dreams for a world where love abounds and where truth is held in high esteem. I’m not yearning for normal, I’m yearning for a better world.