‘What is normal? Normal is yesterday and last week and last month taken together.’ – Lord Vetinari from Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Since the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020, people have lamented the desire to return to “normal”.
Normal. What is it? How do we define it? Is “normal” even a real thing?
We slosh through today hoping the experiences of all our yesterdays equip us to get through the day. If our experience isn’t enough, then we have to work at it, we have to find a way to navigate the challenges. We learn.
As soon as today is done, it becomes yesterday. It’s in the past and added to the memory banks, which are, in a way, our experience tank. The tank of experience is our normal. As Terry Pratchett says through his character Lord Vetinari, normal is the giant rubber band ball made from adding one rubber band a day.
And being humans, we like to think we and our extensive experience tanks of normal are how everything in the future should be. We take comfort in believing we are in total and complete control. We aren’t.
So the overwhelming desire for things to return to “normal” is a fool’s errand. As I’ve written before, we are improbable beings moving at 492, 126 miles per hour through space. We are not in total and complete control. We are, however, blessed with our experience tanks. We have the tools to overcome the unknowns of tomorrow if we have the will to do the work.
We can’t move forward through tomorrow if our will is desperately hanging onto the “normal” in our heads. We stagnate. We fail to solve the problems that inevitably pop up on a daily basis. Normal is how you got through until yesterday. Normal can be part of getting through tomorrow but it can’t force the future to be the past.
In writing, the final resolution of a story, the ending, is sometimes referred to as the “new normal”. Something happens in the story that changes the character for good or bad. The events of the past lead to navigating the future. The events of the past aren’t the future.
Can you imagine how riveting the Harry Potter books would have been if life never left the room under the stairs and stepped out to navigate an unknown and scary new tomorrow? That series would have sold about 50 books instead of millions.
To make a long story short(er), don’t obsess about a return to “normal” as we traverse another day through a major life shift of a global pandemic. Do your best to get through today, bank that in your experience tank, and then attack tomorrow.
Learn from yesterday. Use the knowledge to navigate today. Put it all together to attack the future.
What is normal?
It’s what we make it to be.
But first, we need to leave the room under the stair.