Tag Archives: stay at home

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. 

Smiling During The Times

23 Apr

Just so we’re all on the same page, I am calling this current period of our communal lives “The Times.” There were “The Before Times,” there will be “The After Times” but The After Times won’t be the same as The Before Times because of what we are living through right now. The Times. With me? Great.


I know that there is this idea that people in New York City don’t make eye contact, that we don’t smile at each other. But that is simply not true. That might partially be the story of those of us who, over the years, have tired of the throngs of tourists making the city so crowded that we cannot enjoy some of the amazing things it has to offer. Try walking, running, cycling or driving across the Brooklyn Bridge at any time that isn’t a pandemic and you’ll see what I mean. But more than that it is the story told by the many visitors to this city who have, over their lifetimes, been told countless stories about the coldness that will greet them when they visit here. The people who have not realized that New York City is one of the safest big cities in the country. Those who somehow don’t understand that there is a symbiotic relationship between a city and the people who live within it. People visit New York because the city is amazing. The city is amazing because the people who live here have made it so.

In The Before Times, I would walk around the city and make eye contact with people and then I would smile at them. Not a smile that would invite conversation, mind you. I didn’t have time for that because I was for sure running 5 minutes late for something. But a small smile that said,

Hey, I see you.

In a crowded place sometimes we struggle to be seen.

But now it is The Times. And during The Times people are wearing all manner of face coverings. Surgical masks, N95s, scarves, bandanas, homemade things, those creepy ones that I think maybe are gas masks – Eric says respirators – but either way they make people look like they are either underwater explorers or serial killers. I hate the masks. I hate all of them. I hate wearing them and I hate seeing them. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they are needed and I wear one because it is the only option if you give a shit about anyone other than yourself, but I still don’t like them. They make it hard to breath, they make it look like we are at war (which I suppose we are) and, perhaps most troubling for me, they make it hard to smile at people.

Today, for example, Eric and I took Goose for a walk and got the things we need for the next few days at the store. Eric did the shopping and I stood outside on the sidewalk with Goose, mask firmly in place. For those of you who are making all the wrong choices and have never met Goose, here is her Instagram page. You’re welcome. Point being, Goose is very cute. People LOVE Goose. Usually, in The Before Times they would smile at her when they walked by and then I’d smile at them and then Goose would wag her tail and everyone would be happy. But now they walk by and I look at them and try to figure out if they are smiling and in the meantime I smile behind my mask and then maybe they are trying to figure out if I am smiling and maybe they also are smiling behind their mask and so there we are, blankly staring at each other, smiles completely obscured, not knowing what the fuck to do. We just make a lot of really intense and confused eye contact. So I wonder, Should we all just print out pictures of ourselves smiling in The Before Times, laminate them, wear them around our necks and then hold them up in front of ourselves at the time when we normally would be smiling? And maybe actually are smiling but no one can tell? Do we force everyone to watch America’s Next Top Model and spend their time standing in front of a mirror practicing their smize? Do we use the Defense Production Act to force companies to create see-through masks so that we can be safe out in public and also be able to communicate nonverbally? Do we walk by people and just say “I am smiling at you right now?” I don’t know. I am truly at a loss.

Yesterday, I went for a drive in my car. I was the only person in the car so I wasn’t wearing my mask. When I stopped at stop signs and people crossed in front of me, I would smile at them and they would know. And even though they were wearing masks, I believe they were smiling at me because they could see my smile and read my nonverbal message of

Hey! I see you!

Honestly, I felt so free just being able to interact with the world in a way I was accustomed. I was able to speak the language of facial expressions that involved more than my overly expressive eyebrows for which I currently am more grateful for than ever before. And it was weird because never in my life, in all the time I have spent thinking about the privilege I have, did it ever occur to me that smiling is a privilege. That smiling at someone, and being smiled at in return, is a gift to be treasured. I have caught myself a few times, while wearing the mask, not smiling when normally I would. I have caught myself wondering what the point is. But there is a point. Because there will be The After Times. And even though The After Times will be so different than The Before Times, at least we will be able to smile at one another on the street and in the store.  I am really looking forward to that. Because for all the things I feel sad about, I feel most sad when I smile at someone and they don’t know. I feel sad for the smiles I haven’t knowingly exchanged. The ones I haven’t received and returned in kind. Or the ones I just didn’t know I was given because I couldn’t read what was happening underneath the mask. I deeply feel the loss of those random moments of brightness. I miss strangers. But more than that, I miss their smiles. I can’t wait to see them again.


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.