What is normal?
“Vincent Van Gogh
Normality is a paved road;
It ‘s comfortable to walk on, but no flowers grow on it”
Most of us are experiencing massive changes in our lifestyle. Our hopes and fears are focused on things we could not have imagined a few short weeks ago. This is probably the least normal time I have known in my adult life.
Yet normal is something that has always puzzled me. I grew up in a family that debated and argued everything. There was not one point of view about anything at all. My parents argued about politics, philosophy, what to have for dinner and sometimes about what we just had for dinner.
Reality was a bit of a movable feast in our household, ultimately defined by the person who argued most vociferously or longest.
My father loved to argue and he had a terrible habit of switching sides if he felt he was not winning. If you weren’t paying attention you’d find yourself doing the same, so by the time you realised what was going on, you were mirroring him as he turned the debate around. He used to deny he did this.
Once I recorded him and when he got to the point of arguing the opposite, I made him listen to what he had said earlier. Without skipping a beat he dismissed it with “the tape recorder misunderstood me”.
I once stood out in the rain asking him to come in when he told me it was not raining. I disputed this for a while and then I realised – one of us was daft. It was not the man standing in the rain who did not believe it was raining – but the girl who knew perfectly well that it was; who was still out there arguing about it.
I went in and dried myself off and learned a valuable lesson.
Later on I became the teenager from hell and my father stood on the stairs and told me “The trouble with you, is that you are not normal”. To which I replied “Tell me what normal is”. Quick as a flash he responded “That just goes to show you are not normal – you don’t even know what it is!”.
Forty years later I moved back into the same apartment with my husband who stood on the same step and said to me “The trouble with you is you are not normal”. I replied “Get off the *** step”. I am going to put a plaque on that step as that is obviously where people who are sure what is normal need to stand.
We have just been given something extraordinary – at least as long as our health holds up – and that is the gift of time. Most of us can’t do what we normally do in the way we normally do it. Many of us can’t do it at all.
This is deeply troubling and traumatic for many for fairly obvious reasons. But it also creates a space for us to start to think about what we really value when we can’t run about the world buying everything, owning everything or doing everything. We fall back on the resources of friends, family and community – the very things that got our grandparents and parents through Spanish flu, wars and more.
This situation does not feel normal. The old normal is paused – if not permanently halted.
Perhaps not, Perhaps what has halted was the illusion of normal – the world we created was not the only way to be. The cult of the individual, the cult of greed felt normal.
But was it? Perhaps the real normal is slowly revealing itself – taking care of each other and holding dear the ones we love and the communities we support.
I still don’t really have a sense of what is normal. For me multiple normalities have always existed – and probably always will, but there are some signs of a new normality emerging, out of pain and fear, uncertainty and anger, that is helping to recreate something my ancestors would have recognised at any point in the past.
Perhaps some flowers will bloom on this rocky and difficult path, or at least around the edges. I have watched buddlea root on the roofs of churches and elderflower cling to sheer cliff faces and still survive.
I don’t know what form of normal we are heading for, but whatever it is, I hope you are reaching out to those around you to help and comfort them and that you and your family will weather this storm.
Can we build a better normal when this is done?