A New Normal

It’s a strange new world.

On Sunday afternoon I ventured out to my favorite grocery store. Normally, this would be a fairly routine experience, consisting of a grocery list and reusable bags. But “normal” went out the window about three weeks ago.

This trip felt more like an excursion to a foreign — and hostile — land. I had to decide what to carry with me, what to touch (and not touch), and how to disinfect myself and my purchases once I was safely home. Since our supply of nitrile gloves is running low, I left without them.  And I don’t own a mask. So the plan was to sanitize my cart, keep a safe distance at all times, only touch the merchandise I intended to buy, and get out as quickly as possible. I stuck to that plan, and managed to find almost everything on my list. Thankfully, TP was not on it. (Note: this photo was taken two weeks ago, when Scott brand was still considered a last resort.)

Ironically, “Under Pressure” was playing over the sound system as I made my way to the checkout. (Who selects these grocery store playlists?) I had to remind myself it was Sunday. There were no lines at all, giving cashiers time to sanitize the conveyor belts between customers. I think I was in and out in about 30 minutes . . . no small feat for Wegman’s, no matter when you shop.

Have you seen the YouTube video yet instructing us how to safely unpack and sanitize groceries and take-out meals at home? Again, that was my intention, but not exactly what happened. I was more concerned with the milk spoiling than viral contamination. I did, however, put all the bags on the kitchen floor as I unpacked them, and wiped the contents with disinfectant wipes before putting them away. And I washed my produce. Then washed the kitchen floor.

By the time everything was put away, I completely exhausted from what used to be an everyday task. The rain finally stopped and the sun was shining brightly.  By all appearances, it should have been a typical early spring Sunday afternoon. Kids should have been out playing with their friends. Neighbors should have been chatting together on the front porch. But kids aren’t outside unless they are in their own yards. And neighbors are keeping a wary distance, offering only a wave from the safety of their driveways. More notably, our busy DC suburb is devoid of nearly all traffic. The roads are quiet, as is Dulles Airport, which is literally 10 miles from our home. On a normal Sunday, a jet would be flying over our house ever few minutes. The silence is eerily reminiscent of 9/11 when all air traffic ceased.

This is the new normal.

It’s as though someone hit the Pause button on life. Everything has slowed down to nearly a halt; everyone is hunkered down waiting to hear the “all clear” call to resume their lives. The most difficult part for me has been missing my mother and brother, and also my church family.

But amidst all this chaos and the heart-wrenching stories of lives cut short by COVID-19, there are also truly amazing things happening all around us. There are stories of strength, generosity, and human resilience.

Until two weeks ago, no one had ever heard the phrase “social distancing”. Now it’s the law of the land. Schools and churches have closed, businesses are shuttered, and vacations have been cancelled. Loved ones have been separated by an invisible enemy, and are not sure when they will be able to hold each other again. Yet from this situation, parents — now working from home — have suddenly become teachers; restaurant and store managers have adapted to take-out and meal delivery options to stay afloat. Churches have begun live streaming or recording their church services, opening their virtual doors to the entire world. With the help of the internet, the human race has discovered unique ways to stay in touch and share the love while observing a 6-foot boundary.

Social network sites, usually an endless source of snark and satire, have now become a launchpad for creative ideas to keep both kids and adults entertained while sheltering at home. (My personal favorite is the Teddy Bear Hunt, catching on ’round the world.)

Battle Lines

Those fighting this disease, from hospital ER’s to research laboratories, are nothing short of heroes. They are on the front lines every day, battling a virus that doesn’t play by the rules. I hope they know how many people are cheering them on, praying for them, and scrambling to help find needed supplies.

As so many have reminded us, this is only temporary. But it will last longer than any of us want it to, and will end only when it is safe to resume our daily lives.

Normal, when it returns, will be very different. We have all been touched by this illness in some way. My hope is that we will one day soon emerge from our homes and realize that we need one another. We cannot fight these battles alone, and we are stronger together than we are apart.

Turn the Page

The final days of each year offer a time of remembrance and reflection. We spend the waning hours looking back wistfully on heartaches and failures, while celebrating milestones and accomplishments.

I’m sure that I am in a shrinking minority of those who still use wall calendars. There is a feeling of satisfaction when taking down the old year, and hanging up the next. Twelve brand new months stretch out before me, full of promise and possibilities.

The future is not always welcome though, especially when it feels so random and beyond our control. We have no idea what unexpected events — good and bad — will fill those empty pages

So before the 2020 ball drops in your time zone, why not focus on what we can control in our little corner of the world?

There will always small improvements we can make in our own lives to give them more meaning and purpose. (We list them every year when we make resolutions.)

But maybe we can focus on improving the lives of those around us. We each know someone — a family member, a neighbor, or even a complete stranger in our community who needs a helping hand. 

What if we all resolved next year to shine our light into the dark places in this world where others are hurting or in need? Never underestimate how your love will brighten a dark day. Send a note. Make a meal. Or simply sit and listen. Sometimes the smallest gestures make the greatest impact.

think you will find as I do, that the practice of blessing others will bless your own life abundantly. But don’t just take my word . . . give it a try!

Have a wonderful New Year!