Checking boxes and the new abnormal

This new abnormal is starting to seem routine. Not normal, just routine.
Don’t see anybody? Check.
Cross the street to avoid seeing anybody? Check.
Work from home? Check.
Worry compulsively about the future? Check.
Worry about getting a delivery slot from Peapod or Fresh Direct? Check.
Worry about ever seeing your friends in person again, and how odd that might feel? Check.
Start forgetting what sitting in a restaurant or in a theater feels like? Check.
Start panicking at the idea of sitting in a restaurant or a theater, because, you know, germs? Check.
Getting tired of all these checked boxes? Check and check and slash-your-pencil-through-the-paper-with-rage check yet again.
Okay. That doesn’t work. Start again.
This new abnormal can’t seem normal, not now, not ever, but it is doing to us what my still dearly missed and brilliant friend Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg told me that trauma and age do. They refine you, he said. They rub off all the softness, eat at the gauzy bits, and leave you ever so much more of who you really are. This is a kind of slow-motion trauma, with no end in sight, and it does not allow us to tuck all our emotions away.
The approach of Yom HaShoah somehow has been surprising, even though it came as it always does, the week after Pesach. But time moves so oddly now, in such lurches, so meltingly, that I just hadn’t realized.
This year, Yom HaShoah is making me think about what it might have felt like to hide from the Nazis. I’ve been thinking about how terrible it is to have to cower and shelter from the presence of miniscule mindless viruses, how bad we feel, how cornered and helpless and alone, and then I’m thinking about how very lucky we are. Our enemies don’t hate us. They don’t hate anyone. They’re viruses. They just do what they do.
And our enemies don’t go after us for who or what we are. They just want to live in our cells. No, they don’t even want that. They’re viruses. They don’t want anything. They just do what they do.
We don’t have to be quiet. If our babies cry, it might enrage us, but a cry doesn’t threaten our survival. And we have heat now, we’ll have air conditioning if this goes on into the summer, and we do have food, even if it’s not exactly the cornucopia that we’re used to.
So how did they survive? How did they get the courage and the patience and the grit and the will to keep going? I’ve always looked at survivors with awe, but now this tiny bit of hardship, which entirely pales by comparison, makes me even more astounded by them.
And talk about being astounded — I am jaw-droppingly astonished by our modern-day heroes. The medical staff who go into hospitals and work with people who are carrying a virus that could kill everyone. Those regular people who put on their cumbersome PPE as if it were Superman’s cape and dorky tights. They do it because they’ve chosen that work, because they feel that they can help others, because it’s their calling, their talent, their gift. They do it despite the emotional cost to them — healers know that some of their patients die, because eventually we all must, but to have that many die! To have a disease that we do not yet know how to treat, that is so treacherous, that is so uncontained. To know that your patients will die alone. I cannot imagine how hard that must be.
And as all this goes on, it is riotous spring outside. The forsythias are almost done, yellow on the ground, the magnolias have gone from pink and white beauty to nasty slippery messes on the ground, but the azaleas are starting, and some of the flowering cherries are still up, although they’re on their way out, and the dogwoods are still glorious, and bulbs are blooming, and the baby green buds are starting to open and the deeper green of their leaves is coming out. Very soon we will walk outside and feel that joy in the air that means that the season really fully has turned.
This will end. It will have to end. It can’t be rushed — politicians’ pronouncements don’t end a pandemic, and their electoral needs and egos and lies don’t change the science or the truth — but it will end. And until it does, we can go outside and drink in mid-spring and watch the world move toward summer. And it will come.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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