Taking stock of the new abnormal

A doctor, a politician and a talk-show jock walk into a bar ...

Except that the bar isn’t open, because of COVID-19, which the talk-show host insists is a hoax, and which the politician says is improving so much that the bar, along with all other businesses, should open. The doctor, who’s been working 12-hour days for weeks supervising other exhausted health-care workers in a system stretched to breaking, insists the pandemic isn’t a hoax, of course, and that it’s far from over. And that the three — standing more than six feet apart — should all be heading home rather than off to a bar together.

Zooming can be fun, for a session or two. But if we start getting used to it, it's an indication of how weird these times truly are.

Let us count the ways.

It is truly odd that we now cross the street when we see one another out walking, that grandparents can't hug their own grandchildren, that we live at a time when the future of live concerts, sporting events, and other group activities may be gawked at some day in museums as relics of a quaint, forgotten past. Like recalling having to go on expeditions hunting for toilet-paper.

Not even to mention the looneyness of contemplating a future without movie theaters, concert halls, stadiums, school or college classrooms, live parties or dances, kids' play dates, teens or young adults dating, hugs, handshakes ...

But this era's quirks aren’t so strange, when you think about it. Think of them as part of an evolving new normal.

It’s the entire period we’ve been living in that's been surreal, yet we’ve plodded along the only way we know how to, I thought the other day as I popped a frozen burrito into the microwave the for lunch and realized how odd it is that anything as intricate as a Trader Joe’s Mesa Verde burrito can be prepared in a time machine like a microwave in just three minutes in the midst of a global pandemic.

Or that we’ve come to expect that we can have real-time, audio-visual conversations instantly with someone around the globe whenever we choose. And yet we can’t manage to see that children are fed and people are safe from violence from their governments, from gangs, from their partners

How can we have become accustomed to walking down the street staring into our devices, cut off from one another and our natural surroundings by earbuds. It’s strange times when people own jets and yachts, multiple homes and in some cases islands … while others live on cardboard on the streets, begging just to be noticed as human.

How odd to suddenly be walking down the street wearing masks, possibly rushing by people we know but can't recognize ... and may eye them suspiciously, unknowing whether there's a friendly smile behind that covering ... or someone who is infected who might veer into the personal space we've recently become protective of.

How ludicrous to be living in a time when truth itself has become suspect, when we can't agree that what we're seeing or hearing and purported as fact can be trusted as reality or has been manipulated. How insane is it that, despite scientific consensus that our global environment faces an existential crisis, we can't agree to act to protect the lives of our children and grandchildren?

How bizarre is it that we trust algorithms devised by corporations more than we do each other? That we can't as a society to stop mass killings, which last year totaled a record 41 in this country and took the lives of 210 people. There have been 2,128 mass shootings in this country since 2013. Yet we've allowed this to become "normal?"

And let's not try too much to normalize the surreal changes brought about by climate change, like rapidly melting glaciers, last year's Australian bush fires and cyclones devastating Africa as well as a “super typhoon" in the Pacific and scorching temperatures in Europe last summer. As much as I hate to state the obvious, we probably need to get used to bizarre extreme weather events like these as they become less bizarre.

Yes, the uncertainty of what lies ahead -- including the ramifications for how the national election will take place now less than six months away -- is itself part of the strangeness of the times we're living in. And it's certainly at the core of our collective unease.

It's hard to find an upside without seeming like you're trying too hard to find the silver lining on a sad, new reality. But it may be this.

We're at a time, many of us, when we can truly take stock of how grateful we can be for the reality we've had and still can enjoy.


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