Tag Archives: quarantine

Rebekah’s Pandemic Diary: This is Not “The New Normal”

29 Apr

The other day I was talking to my friend Ben about whatever it is we talk about these days. We have had an ongoing conversation over the years about the sayings that really just drive us crazy. One of the mainstays is Oprah’s “aha! moment.” We’ve also discussed Rachel Ray’s shortening of extra-virgin olive oil to “EEOO” which really seems unnecessary. It’s not as if it rolls off the tongue which, in my opinion, is what a good acronym accomplishes. Additionally, and I don’t think Ben and I have discussed this particular thing, I’m going to offer up the phrase “nothing burger.” I honestly don’t know how anyone can expect to be taken seriously when they say that something is a “big nothing burger” and yet I hear correspondents for news organizations use it on air without a hint of irony. In our chat the other day, Ben added another phrase to our ever-growing list, one that we have all been hearing quite often over the past few weeks. It will sound familiar to you.  “The new normal.”

I agreed with him without really examining why. This virus has been unkind to all of us to varying degrees (except maybe Jeff Bezos – I always gotta get those Bezos jabs in), but it has been especially unkind to Ben. I could understand why he wouldn’t want to think of this as the new normal, but how about me? Sure, I hate the masks and social distancing from my friends and family. I hate being out of work and having the days and weeks stretch out endlessly in front of me. I hate this feeling of uncertainty that looms over everything. Will my job be here when this is over? What will the city be like? Will my loved ones remain healthy? The more I thought about this idea of the new normal, though, the more and more I agreed with Ben. I had something of an aha! moment myself, if I had to really distill it down for you. I can not speak for Ben but this is what I came up with, this is where I landed on “the new normal.”

If we start to describe this as the new normal, we are resigning ourselves to that reality. And what is this normal, really. We are currently living in a state that is failing its population. And no, I don’t mean New York State, although there are of course plenty of issues here. I mean the United States as a whole. Over the past few years we have watched as Donald Trump and his feckless administration has dismantled our government piece by piece. All of the norms – those standards that are not codified in law but are instead just an accepted matter of course – have been destroyed. And even as we have watched this happen, have taken note of it, we have been unable to stop relying on the consistency of those standardized practices. This pandemic is the perfect example. I know that there are limits to what state governments can do without federal approval, but we lost precious time in fighting this virus because we all waited for a sign from the feds to tell us how serious this really was. And even as state and local governments started sounding the alarm, still far too late, Trump was using his Twitter account and the Office of the Presidency to spread the lies – not the misinformation, not the alternative facts, the lies – that this virus was nothing to worry about. That it was and would be, in the words of so many prognosticators, a big, old nothing burger. And yet here we are.

Accepting this time as “the new normal” means accepting that our government turns a blind eye to the suffering and deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. It means accepting that the President of the United States as well as tons of other (mostly Republican) politicians acted against the best interest of the population of this country. I refuse to say that there was inaction, because there wasn’t inaction. There was action. It was intentionally callous, cruel, short-sighted and tragically incorrect but it was action. The action taken to prioritize the economy over human health and well-being has been directly responsible for a much higher death toll than we ever should have seen. There are people arguing that sacrificing tens of thousands of lives is all well and good if it saves the economy. An economy that would have been in much better shape had this disease been taken seriously in the first place. An economy that was failing the majority of the population while enriching a few. An economy that, for the sake of low overhead costs and a little convenience, left millions of people vulnerable.

Accepting this time as “the now normal” means allowing demonstrations of military might to replace actual real, meaningful policy work to protect essential workers and all of us doing our best to contain the spread.  Just yesterday, in the middle of a fucking pandemic that calls for staying home, our government decided to fly a bunch of military planes over New York City, the epicenter of illness, death and suffering, to celebrate the first responders and demonstrate the strength of the United States military. We are supposed to stay inside. And so I ask: what is the purpose of flying military jets above the city if not to encourage people to go outside to ooh and aah as they fly overhead? And people did just that. Against their better judgement, against the directive to stay indoors and socially distance, people gathered in groups to watch something truly incredible, truly unnecessary, and incredibly dangerous. Will we have an uptick in infections in the next few weeks? Probably. And why? Because our government is callous and cruel. In an attempt to appear magnanimous in celebrating the frontline workers, the nurses, the firefighters, the mail carriers, the grocery store clerks, all the essential workers, our government made their jobs potentially more dangerous. Our government made us all less safe.

Accepting this time as “the new normal” means accepting a mounting death toll as a part of our day. It means seeing today, seeing right now, as a line stretching before us for eternity. It means saying that science, that ingenuity, that medical advancements will not help us become safer moving forward. Accepting this as the new normal means growing accustomed to this lose and not fighting to remember that each and every one of the people who have sickened, suffered and died was an individual with a life, with memories, with knowledge. To me, accepting this time as “the new normal” means not learning from the mistakes we have made and not realizing that this country is not the best country on earth, not realizing that our country is failing, because it is. A failure that also is not normal.

So, I agree with Ben. This is not the new normal. This is a painful, terrible time that is going to change all of us forever. We will not be who we were when this is all over. We will fight to regain some of what we lost and we will work to improve upon what was not working, what got us to where we are right now. Because right now? Right now is everything but normal.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts.