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Creating “normal”

Years ago, you wouldn’t have heard me craving “normal.” Picturing myself as creative, I’d have called normal too dull, predictable, and routine.

But this week, after testing positive for COVID on Monday (not surprising given my husband’s case last week), getting stung by some very angry bees, and hearing bad news, I found myself craving the simple rhythm of normal, whatever that might mean. No extra excitement needed.

The word normal comes from the 17th century English, derived from the Latin “normalis,” meaning “made according to a carpenter’s square, forming a right angle.” So “normal” meant having a clean right angle. It later became “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.”

Is there a new normal?

As the pandemic moved from months into years, I wrote in this blog that the hope of “returning to normal” was an illusion. People talked about “the new normal” and I did, too. Now, I’m changing my tune.

There is no “new normal” because normal was something we made up–a personal or social construct. If we’re always making it up, normal is ever-changing.

Which makes “normal” less something we hold on to and more something we create.

It got me thinking whether, in this crazy world, it might be time to embrace the small, unsurprising stuff of daily life as we rebuild our sense of normal.

I happened on this Facebook post from two years ago, declaring (a bit too optimistically it turned out) what the pandemic did not take away. I liked the spirit.

Valuing the small stuff

As my head was spinning with difficult news, I found myself reaching for routines. I needed straightforward, count-on-able steps that I could grab onto like pitons to pull myself up the hill to the next day.

Here’s a draft list of some unremarkable daily routines:

  • Wake up.
  • Smile and hug husband.
  • Have tea. Meditate. Get dressed.
  • Prep and eat breakfast; clean up. 
  • Feed dogs. Feed horses.
  • Check voicemail. Check email. Respond to friends first.
  • Sweep the floor (too often, thank you, dogs).
  • Prep and eat lunch; clean up. 
  • Prep dinner, say grace, eat, and clean up.
  • Brush teeth.
  • Bath.
  • Snuggle in bed with husband.

At first glance, my list looked almost embarrassingly dull. Of course, my life is also full of creative projects, responsibilities, and work for which I am very grateful. Yet making a list was an opportunity to highlight the simple, ordinary, predictable stuff that shapes my days.

Because I don’t spend enough time being grateful for these stable anchors in my life.

What a brush with death can teach us

Some people create a “bucket list” of adventures and places to visit before they die when facing the prospect of death. People who’ve had a close encounter with death or life-threatening illness, though, often return to their lives talking about their gratitude for the most ordinary aspects of life.

Forget having to visit faraway Macchu Pichu, however majestic it might be. The beauty in the sparrow’s song may be enough to fill one’s heart. A world of wonder might be found in toast and jam at the breakfast table. 

Last week, when my husband’s COVID kept us apart at night, the simple act of going to bed together became precious.

What is normal?

Normal is what we deem routine and ordinary, like the straight angles shaping our lives. We each have our own lists and they can change. Circumstances may add items to that list such as “ake medications.”

Normal might still seem dull.

But when the seas surrounding us are stormy, normal can be like a bulwark that protects us, offers some stability, and creates a safe harbor in which we can rest.

At the very least, it allows us to appreciate the small graces in our lives.

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