Now that Biden has been in office for a week, now that vaccines have begun, now that California is finally getting the winter storms it needs, are we breathing a sigh of relief, or a sigh of frustration that not everything is changing overnight?
Politicians are still at a stalemate, the vaccine rollout is slow and inadequate and disorganized (to put it lightly), and the storms are causing mudslides and flooding in the areas with scars from the massive wildfires.
I say this not to be pessimistic, but as a reminder that expecting “things” (you know, things—somehow related to the nameless “they” we carry around with us) to get better after one thing changes (no matter how big that thing is) only ends up in disappointment.
Sure, Biden’s presidency means it will be easier (that is, possible) to make changes and get things done. But those things take time.
Extrapolate to the general sentiment of “getting back to normal” after the pandemic.
I mean, let’s pause for a second and ask ourselves what “normal” we’re hoping to get back to? A normal in which there are huge (racial, socioeconomic, demographic) disparities in who gets healthcare, who gets equal pay the equal work, who can afford to go to school, who can live in homes rather than on the street? A normal in which corporations run our political process? A normal in which capitalism feeds on our insecurities and promises reaching a certain status and buying stuff is the only way to be happy?
We’re not going back to normal. There’s only one way to go from here, and that’s ahead. Yes, we’ll again be able to enjoy “normal” things, like going to the movies and coffee shops and concerts. But it’s not like one day things will be different. We still don’t know how long immunity after getting a vaccine or surviving Covid lasts. We don’t know anything about reinfection. New strains are popping up all over the world.
This is all about setting our expectations: this is the one thing we can individually control for ourselves. Expecting the world to jump back to how it was is a futile exercise. It might seem comforting, but it’s delusional, and will lead to disappointment that always comes when expectations are not in line with reality.
Expecting a long recovery and a step backward here and there, expecting work ahead rather than smooth sailing, expecting things to change—this is how we’ll get through the pandemic and everything else that happened in 2020 and learn from it and do better going forward.
It’s normal for us to hang onto the comfortable, the lives we know. But humans are also incredibly flexible and able to adapt to new situations, new environments. New truths. But only if we let go of what we think is right, fair, and true and consider that maybe the world has changed and our expectations need to be reset accordingly.
It’s scary, to be sure. But maybe we can also bond together over this shared experience of all being asked to do hard things, rather than becoming more divided by thinking we’re above doing the hard things (I’m thinking here of wearing masks, avoiding travel, all those things we’re almost a year into being asked to do).
For me, that’s where a lot of my frustration comes when I see unsafe behavior. Like, are you not part of this human condition we’re all experiencing right now? Are you wearing blinders and hoping if you don’t react, it isn’t happening? Are you waiting for things to go back to “normal” by pretending they are still “normal”? At first, I want to scream, but then I just think how sad it is that we’re so conditioned to be individualistic and can find groups on the internet that agree with our views, no matter how deluded. And I think of how sad it is that, instead of embracing change and lowering expectations, there are so many of us who’d instead cling to their fear of the unknown and refusal to change. Their hope is paradoxically placed in the past rather than in the future.
I have hope that we can learn lessons from the pandemic and from #45’s presidency and from racial unrest. And the only way we can go with those lessons, is forward.
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