They tell us this is the “new normal.” I don’t like the term. Currently, there is precious little that is “normal” about life across my wider community. I think a more accurate term is “normal-less,” a state of existence where nothing seems the same as before. But when we finally return to life as we knew it before that descending plague of early March, I will joyfully describe our collective rediscovery of familiar routine and ritual as “normal-ness.” Although it is absent from Webster’s Dictionary, I will choose to use this invented word. Daily living on that blessed new day will deserve a designation something more unique than just being called “normal.”
What is normal-less these long days? For me it is the absence of connectedness: I am no longer connected in-person with people beyond my sanctuary walls; not connected with television sports that aren’t re-runs, unconnected from the satisfying routines of leisurely store browsing, disconnected from community gatherings.
What will my normal-ness look like?
—inviting our daughter who lives close by, over for a meal, rather than waving at her through a window,
—seeing those Blue Jay rookies, now in their sophomore years, brightening the hopes of long-suffering Canadian baseball fans,
—watching on my big screen TV, both Toronto teams—Leafs and Raptors—battling in playoff action,
—entering local stores and being greeted by Heather and Mary, or by Rosemary and Wendy, and taking time for a casual chat to hear how life is treating them,
—walking down my street and offering friendly Hellos to strangers, instead of holding my breath and walking in the gutter as they pass by,
—leading my congregation in worship on a Sunday morning, and together singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness,
—willingly sharing space on our Rail Trail with other joggers, walkers and cyclists, no longer fearing their proximity,
—renewing literal face-to-face friendships over a hot drink; a time together, bookended with hugs.
—hearing a banging on my front door, an impatient knocking which announces the arrival of grandchildren bringing hugs for Grandpa. (Grandparents: Let us solemnly promise to never again utter that whispered September phrase: “Glad to see them come; glad to see them go.”)
But how do we now cope, while awaiting the eventual return of normal-ness? From a world-wide perspective, it seems that even nature is experiencing normal-lessness. Today’s online version of The Atlantic magazine (April 3) carries this header: “Pandemic turning natural world upside down.” A London seismologist recorded “—a sharp decrease in vibrations produced by human activity.” The article produces other evidence of the unintended but positive effect our normal-less world is having on nature: a marine ecologist discovers right whales are now less stressed from passing ships; in a quieter ocean, their calving is made easier; another scientist cites statistical records documenting far less air pollution; noise decibels are being measured at much below normal rates in cities.
The article provides a macro picture of a global natural world behaving normal-lessly. Yet we can take comfort and find solace in the micro world of nature as close as our own backyard. It can be immeasurably reassuring to discover that April nature is behaving predictably and faithfully as always. I asked a few friends to confirm my own observations. Here is some of what I heard:
—the sap has flowed with a wonderful abundance in our wood lot these past weeks and our pails are overflowing,
—my husband and I sat quietly on our porch as a happy male cardinal serenaded us loudly and joyfully from his perch high in a cedar tree, a splash of bright red contrasting vividly against the thick greenery.
—the tiny tulip bud sits with its petals wrapped around herself to fend off the cold, waiting for the first ray of sunshine to kiss her face. When the warmth reaches her, she will unfurl her shawl like an exotic dancer and the bud will emerge into spectacular flower.
Those delicate yellow petals are so tiny, yet the sight of them brings a smile and assurance that all is well.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in eloquent witness, to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.