The new abnormal

Human beings can be incredibly adaptable.

We are starting to adapt to this new normal — or at least I am, but I suspect that I’m not alone in this.

I don’t go to stores. I don’t see anyone other than the people in my house. When I’m out, walking the dogs, often before sunrise or after sunset, I see almost no one, and when I do, I cross to the other side of street, in a way that I would have thought extraordinarily rude just a month or so ago and fervently hope that I will find rude again, in the not-impossibly-distant future.

It has occurred to me that this new way of being is overriding my old instincts. It used to be wise to avoid empty streets at night. I think we’re programmed to fear them. Those shadows behind trees and cars and garbage cans could be anything. But now, as long as they’re not viruses — which do not leave shadows — it’s fine. No one else would be crazy enough to be out now.

I do not think that I am alone in this.

There’s the lure of online shopping, of course. Everything’s on sale now! It’s not clear where I’d wear all those wonderful pants and tops and spectacular — and spectacularly cheap — boots just now, but there’s always next year, right? And one of the few pleasures of this difficult time are the packages from the outside world, almost like a message in a bottle but in better colors, even if we do have to scrub them down, and it’s hard not to feel slightly foolish washing cardboard.

That’s not, perhaps, the most wise adaptation.

As we shelter here, together in being alone, in the middle of Pesach but still in Mitzrayim, the narrow place from which the Israelites escaped but to which we seem to be consigned this year, there’s plenty of time to think, about foolishness, about fear, and also about hope and love and joy.

I’ve been thinking about the heroism of the people who protect us.

The doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers who risk their lives — how do they do it? That’s heroism. Thank you.

The cashiers and mail deliverers and Instacart shoppers and Amazon workers and bus drivers and gravediggers — that’s heroism too. Thank you.

Those of us lucky enough to be able to stay home are overwhelmingly grateful to you.

We also are grateful to the RCBC, whose strongly worded advice to the local Orthodox community was early and powerful and made a big difference. It’s never easy to show that kind of leadership, to pry away from people the things they — we — cherish the most; community, fellowship, family. Seders. Funerals. Everything. But they did, and that also helped keep the community safe.

We have no idea how much longer this will take, but eventually we will burst from the narrow places that hold us back.

It might make sense, though, for us to pay attention to the news as the world changes around us.

Even as we are told in stay away from other people, to practice radical social distancing, this is an election year. Many primaries were held before covid-19 turned our lives upside down, and most of the remaining ones were rescheduled. But Wisconsin’s was not. The election — which was not only a primary to chose the Democratic presidential nominee but also a straightforward the-winner-wins contest for a state Supreme Court justice.

Wisconsin voters had to chose between exercising their right to vote — there were very few polling places open, at least in part because so many poll workers refused to undertake undeniably dangerous work, and also in part because of the state’s toxic politics — and keeping themselves and their family members safe and flattening the curve of covid-19’s progression.

That is a terrible choice, an un-American choice, and no one should have to make it.

As this contentious presidential year continues to evolve, in a country that is riven with polarization and sick with virus and fear, all of us, no matter on which side of the divide we’re on, should work to make sure that we get to vote as we should.

The virus can kill people. We’ve learned that. We cannot let it eat away at our democracy.

The Israelites crossed the Red Sea, we relearn every Pesach, on their way toward freedom. We can’t start going backward, back to Mitzrayim.

Instead, we will continue to move forward.

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.)
Related Topics
Related Posts