A New Normal

COVID-19 is spreading around the world and life is getting stranger by the second. School districts are closing in droves and parents are scrambling to figure out what to do. Birthday parties, recitals, and sports events are being postponed indefinitely. Our phones are buzzing with updates from businesses assuring us they’re handling this crisis, though it’s becoming clear that sanitizing more won’t be enough. Starbucks may shift to drive thru-only orders or close stores temporarily (who has favorite homemade mocha recipes I can try?).

When I told my husband yesterday that I wanted to watch Contagion, he looked at me like I’d sprouted horns. But I’m not alone; apparently a lot of people are watching that movie right now. (Hey, it doesn’t hurt that Matt Damon is in it.)

We’re all dealing with uncertainty in our own way, but it’s fair to say everyone’s anxiety is much higher these days. We’re stunned and scared and grasping for answers we just don’t have yet. How long will this outbreak last? What is life going to look like for the foreseeable future? We’re worried about those we’re told are most vulnerable to covid-19: our older parents, grandparents, and loved ones who have chronic health conditions. The disease’s impact is far-reaching, beyond just its medical implications. The government is weighing measures to address food insecurity for the more than 20 million kids who rely on school meals, and to help families struggling economically because of school and business closures.

This is uncharted territory. A new (yet temporary) normal. But in the midst of change, I’m finding comfort in realizing what will stay the same.

Dogs are perhaps the quintessential examples of creatures who can happily go on with business as usual. This weekend, as coronavirus news dominates conversations and social media feeds, our puppy continues to chase every leaf she sees, bark manically at squirrels, and gobble her food with abandon. As my husband and I ponder our family’s supply of toilet paper and I research online lesson plans for the kids, our dog is blissfully unaware that the world is turning upside down, though maybe she notices her humans are around more than usual.

Here in the Midwest, winter is reluctantly making way for spring. The sun makes an occasional appearance, bright and blinding, as if competing with the frosty wind that whips at our faces. Daffodils are emerging with their vibrant green leaves, but we know it’s not time to remove the snow stakes from our driveways just yet. As regular routines cease and neighborhoods grow quieter, the sounds of birds are beginning to fill the silence. Walking our dog this morning, I heard the sweet warbling of an American goldfinch from somewhere high up in the trees. Robins are suddenly everywhere, poking in the grass for worms. Deer amble through backyards in search of any acceptable scraps of vegetation. When I look at them through our kitchen window, they peer back at me as if bored by it all.

There’s a scene from an episode of Peppa Pig (I’m not embarrassed to admit I enjoyed that show as much as my kids did) when Grampy Rabbit sings a rather banal song about nature:

“Woke up this morning, the sea was still there, and so was the sky.”

When questions swamp me, I’ve started to replay that line in my head. Because I don’t know exactly when we’ll return to some kind of normalcy, but I know this: When we wake from another dreamless sleep, the sea and sky will still be there. The sun will rise and later set. The earth will keep spinning on its axis. Spring will arrive, then summer and fall. Nature will go on. And somehow, so will we.

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