In My Own Words: The new not-so-normal normal by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Zoom meetings, social gatherings with separate tables, masks worn in stores or when visiting friends, numerous protocols in order to enter buildings: this is the new not-so-normal normal. Some of us are adjusting better than others; some of us are luckier than others financially or socially. Some of us are scared every time we walk out the door; others are convinced nothing can happen to them. Some of these folks still take precautions; others throw caution to the wind.

Since March, I have not socialized with more than two people at a time. The only time I’m in a crowd (now defined as around more than two people) is when I’m grocery shopping (which happens about every two weeks) or visiting the drugstore (only twice so far, but, as I write this, I just got a text that my prescription is ready). My annual eye doctor appointment was like something out of a sci-fi movie: everyone covered and/or masked, and patients were taken directly into the examination rooms. I had to wait in the hallway before checking out because someone was already at the front desk. On the other hand, I was surprised on my visit to the foot doctor to see people in the waiting room. They were sitting every other seat, but it still made me nervous. Fortunately, my name was called right away.

After weeks of only meeting on Zoom, I’ve managed to see some friends in person. One brought over lunch during the workweek and we had a picnic on my porch. Another friend came by so we could catch up in person and arranged a surprise: a visit from Tina the Quarantinacorn, who is really another friend. That friend bought a full body costume of a pink unicorn to help people celebrate birthdays and graduations. My visit was just a pick-me-up and the three of us chatted for a bit (once she changed out of the costume). I’ve eaten on another friend’s deck and, when the weather was bad, we sat at the ends of the table in her dining room so we could be further apart.

Over the July 4 weekend, I went to a social distancing cookout. This friend has a covered patio and the three of us sat at individual tables. Whenever we had to move close to each other, we wore masks. It was both a familiar and different way to spend the fourth. The fireworks near my house were cancelled, but that wasn’t a problem for me: I can take them or leave them. I did miss seeing the friends who usually drive over and watch them with us from our driveway, though. 

I consider myself very lucky that the Federation is allowing us to work from home. I may have mentioned in previous columns that I’ve enjoyed this, partly because I get a lot more done. If you don’t believe me, just check out the two book reviews in this issue and the Jewish resource articles, which take a lot of time. When I started those, I thought there might be only a few of them, but the number of events online has grown. 

Like everyone, I’ve had my bad moments. I went off Facebook for two weeks, not because of politics, but because I was having a bad reaction to other things I read. The funny thing is that most research says reading about other people’s wonderful events can make people feel down. Well, my parents always said I was contrary because what occurred to me was the opposite. Reading about things people were missing made me look back at my life and realize all the things I’ve missed because of my various health problems. Fortunately, I know myself well enough to explore what was really bothering me and why I was having this reaction. 

I believe one of the reasons I’ve adjusted to the current circumstances so easily is because, while I’ve never lived through a pandemic before, I’ve had my life turned upside down more than once – meaning I’ve had to adjust to a new way of living. Even something as restricting grocery shopping was familiar: years ago, if I went into the store more than once a week, I had a headache. Limited things to eat? Check those restricted diets I’ve been on. I’ve adjusted to all those changes and live what I consider a very good, and very blessed, life. But anyone can fall into the trap of looking at what’s missing from their lives, rather than focusing on what they have. So, after some talking to myself and two weeks off Facebook, I was doing fine. This was a reminder, though, to be careful and monitor my emotions so this doesn’t happen again.

Will our not-so-normal normal ever go back to what we used to consider normal? I have no idea. The new normal may look different because we are different. We may become accustomed to doing things in different ways. What we need to remember, though, is that the important things have not changed: love for family and friends, connecting to our community any way we can and helping to make the world a better place – which now includes protocols to protect the sick, weak and elderly. Pandemic or no pandemic, quarantine or no quarantine: these are the things that matter.