Commentary: The new normal? Here’s hoping it’s a lot better than the old past

Commentary: The new normal? Here’s hoping it’s a lot better than the old past
Maggie MacPherson/CBC
A staff member wearing a protective mask and gloves serves a customer at a store in Vancouver on Monday.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

So what is the new normal? Ar we eventually going back to the same old past or to a bright new future?

Do our stripped-down lives of forced isolation and reflection mean we’re going to emerge from all this as better people?

I sure hope so.

The new normal is one of the catchwords of this pandemic, alongside bending the curve, social distancing and washing our hands. The New Yorker had a cartoon this week with a young couple sitting at a kitchen table. One says, “Are you talking about the new normal of an hour ago, or is there a new new normal right now?”

The cross-Canada TV concert Sunday night, Stronger Together, had many of our Canadian icons talking about a brave new world, presumably, one where we all hold hands, sing Kumbaya, reverse climate change and a world in which the Toronto Maple Leafs win a Stanley Cup.

There was Margaret Atwood telling us “we’ll find other and better ways to do things.”

Rick Hansen talked of heading towards “a healthier, more inclusive country.”

Robbie Robertson of The Band said we’ll “come through this better and stronger than ever.”

David Suzuki asked us to remember what was important: Family and friends and not all those trivial things.

Buffy Sainte-Marie reprised the lyrics of one of her new songs when she told us we’re all here by the skin of our teeth, so let’s get on with what matters. The earth, not money, will bring us happiness.

And Drake, in his rambling closing to the show, gave the hope we will emerge better, more unified.

So were these just the rambling hopes and dreams of a bunch of celebrities, or is it something we can, and should aspire to? Certainly, I’ve seen a lot more kindness and a sense of togetherness since the beginning of the pandemic, a lot more cooperation and community, even if the events in Nova Scotia gave us all a reality check.

There are many examples. My wife, for instance, called in to volunteer her services in Victoria for those in need and was told that she may have to wait – there were more volunteers signed up than those who had asked for help.

The best perspective on the new normal I’ve heard recently was on BBC Radio, on a segment called Thought for the Day on the Today Show. Leaders of all faiths get a shot at delivering a mini-sermon. And they always make me think, even though I’m not of their faith.

The one I liked was by Dr. Sam Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square.

He said God’s future is made out of our past. Nothing is wasted. Mistakes we’ve made become moments of learning and growth. Our disappointments and regrets turn into wisdom and insight. Our failures are no longer the end of the story but the beginning of a better story. Strangers and enemies become comrades and companions.

“The bible isn’t interested in going back to normal. Setback, dejection and despair provoke us to see what was wrong in what we’ve become accustomed to – and realize there’s no going back,” he said.

So far so good. Then he turns it to our situation now.

“We may feel bewildered and powerless but we’ll never get a better chance to consider how we can make a better future bigger than the past.

“If all we aspire to in the face of months of lockdown is to go back to normal we will have squandered a once-in-a-century invitation to imagine something richer and deeper than normal ever was.

“After the war people didn’t aspire to go back to the hungry thirties, they wanted to build a land fit for heroes to live in.

“This isn’t a time for looking back, it’s for imagining the future – and starting to live that future now.”

John Lennon wrote Imagine, with Yoko’s help, 50 years ago next year. The work of a dreamer. Imagine no possessions, he said, I wonder if you can. Well, yes, now I can. You got that bit right.

No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man, he sang. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.

Well, you may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

Suddenly, a whole lot us realize there’s no going back. The way to the future? Be kind, be calm, be safe. Now that’s a good place to start.

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Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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