2020 has felt far from normal. Yet, it is not a break with normality. It is a break with recent baselines and a return to what has been normal.
Lockdowns, social isolation and stressful interaction on social media are not the usual.
Masks as new fashion accessories, and masks seen as muzzles castrating men and restricting freedom – that is not exactly normal.
Most of all, however, this only feels far from normal. It is, more importantly and tellingly, far from comfortable.
In all that has changed compared to recent years, if not decades, we are seeing less of a break with normality than a break from recent baselines. What we had become used to in recent years (or decades) has become impossible.
This has shaken us out of our comfort, but it is a return only to what has been more normal for the longer time. In fact, for most of humanity.
Uncertainty about life. Worrisome risks that may or may not strike. Life feeling brittle and all too easy to go sideways… That is not a break from normality. It is normality.
Average life expectancies have become much higher, worldwide, than they used to be.
We can more legitimately assume that we have higher chances of making it to old age than before.
We see higher chances that our children will survive their early years. Women are more likely to survive as mothers rather than die in childbirth.
People are less likely to die young. More likely to suffer from “diseases of civilization”, but live with them for long.
There are good chances, too, of staying active and doing well into higher age.
There is still, always, a risk of not making it.
Life is Uncertain
Diseases, reduced as their burden has been thanks to better hygiene and vaccines, are still a burden and a danger.
Even without disease, you can be the healthiest person around and die in an accident.
Life is always fleeting, and always short. Even if it is long, it is not predictably so.
We do not know much in such matters, either. We know the statistics, the averages – but they only give a chance, a likelihood, but never a certainty.
You could be the healthiest person around, and then have an allergic reaction to a bee sting or a headache medication and be gone. Statistically, it’s not likely, but that does not make it impossible.
In medicine, especially, we have come to be able to do tremendously much.
Still, if you need a heart transplant and aren’t high enough on the list of recipients, that’s it.
If there is an issue with compatibility, that’s it.
If you get cancer and it doesn’t respond well to treatment, that’s it.
Pre-screenings for diseases help, but not everything can be checked and will be found. Not everything can be treated, either.
Statistically, treatments work as well as we know they do. That does not mean that they would work as well as they do on average for you, should you need them. Maybe you never will because you get lucky. Maybe you never will because you died first.
Having a new disease like COVID-19 from a new virus like SARS-CoV-2 does not mean that science has failed, let alone that we should get back to faith.
That even medical professionals quarrel over the exact numbers and outcomes from such an infection? That we cannot tell just how bad it *really* is – or even exactly how it spreads and its risks can be minimized? That is not a failure of science.
It is science, it is normality, that there are things we can only see clearly in hindsight. With more experience. When we (are able to) look closer at different contexts. When we no longer stand in the thick of things.
Limited knowledge is not a strange new danger to retreat from, it is normality. (And it is why erring on the side of caution is so important.)
Freedom? Normal Limits
Restricted possibilities are just as normal.
That we had been able to travel freely and with few problems around the whole world wasn’t normal at all. That there were many who would jet across the English Channel or even the Atlantic, just for the weekend, isn’t normal at all.
Journeys have, for the longest time, meant difficulties, even dangers – and at least partly, they remained so.
Traveling just for fun, with everything organized and planned and all inclusive, taking away any concerns? That only caused anger if there was anything at all that didn’t go exactly as wished. And that is abnormal.
Traveling organized around other people’s photos, only for re-creating the same photos in the same places, that is an oddity.
Effort and trouble, insecurity and even danger? That is normality.
Journeys are voyages of discovery – or business opportunity, or other things – with uncertain endings. With ups and downs. That is what makes them interesting experiences one can grow by.
The Journey of Life
Life itself is a journey of discovery. With some common waypoints that can be expected, but also full of uncertainty. Always fleeting. Always at risk. With luck, both good and bad.
That is what makes it so valuable, even if we tend to forget about that in all the daily pressures – and pleasures.
Humanity is in a strange spot, anyways. We are aware of our own mortality, and so we have to find ways of dealing with that.
Bread and Circuses?
Seeking to eliminate all risk, have a normality that is a comfortable numbness, though? That is not it.
This ease of living, this comfort and convenience of consumerism – it doesn’t really make happy. It only offers enough distraction that we could forget the dis-eases of our lives.That was our normality these few years (perhaps, decades) before 2020 – at least, to some extent.
Too often, the desire to have the world conform to one’s wishes has been strong. The dissatisfaction and aggravation when the world proved to follow its own rules, not our individual desires, have been deep.
The World Is
It is only normal that the world doesn’t go as we want it to, but simply as it does.
All we can do is go along for the ride, stick our hands into the stream or paddle with hands and feet to maybe change our course a bit. And this is normal.
We should not want to get back to an abnormality where convenience is king – much as we are still stuck in that.
We can do better, in this normality of recognizing how fickle life is. With that, we can recognize how great that makes each and any of our individual contributions to the progress – or at least, the continuation – of life.