Watch it Spring Forth
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it. The vulnerabilities of the world are on display as we negotiate sheltering in place, social distancing, and wearing masks. These adaptations are themselves signs of the history of un-wellness among us, even as we wrestle with the grief and pain resulting from the escalating loss of lives globally. We are also grieving and mourning the dramatic fissures that are present among us, fault lines that have been exacerbated as the virus spreads disproportionately among vulnerable communities. Much has changed around us, yet there is much that remains the same.
I hear the question being asked, “When will we return to normal?” And the lament from some that echoes the same sentiment: “I wish things were the way they were before Covid-19.”
In the midst of mourning the loss of “normal” is the reality that normal was and is relative. Whose normal are we mourning? What would it mean to return to the “normal” that is problematized by a chasmic racial divide, a widening wealth gap, poor health care, lack of education, violations of human rights, and a destructive brand of nationalism that is framed in conservative politics and religious extremism?
In these days of “new normal,” we are called to an examination of what has been made normative in our communities and in the world. The establishment of “normal” – and what is named normative – is rooted in dominant culture narratives at the expense of marginalized and vulnerable communities. “Normal” is where privilege has long resided.
We are mourning the loss of normal. Longing for the days before pandemic when we had the freedoms to entertain and to be entertained in the company of those who are important to us. In these days of sheltering in place, we are being brought into the reality of many who do not have the freedom of movement we enjoy. Restriction of movement is normal for refugees, some on the move, others held in confinement while governments decide their fate.
The new normal is one in which we wear masks to reduce potential risk for ourselves and others when we are in public. In communities with high pollution in various parts of the world, wearing a mask is the alternative to breathing in the pollution and poor air quality. Climate change and pollution create a different normal for which we should hold resistance, even as we lament having to cover our faces in these days.
A return to normal is not possible if we believe in a just world for all. In these days, we should be dreaming of a reality in which all people have the freedoms guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The revelations of the moment should point us to action and advocacy, toward the imagination of a “new normal” world that is free from the injustices laid bare before us.
The exposed fault lines can no longer be ignored or pushed aside for later. The urgency of our work for justice must include grappling with the ways in which the pandemics of Covid-19, racism, and other social illnesses need our efforts to be eradicated. Mourning of the loss of the world as we know it must recognize that “normal” has meant the lack of justice for all. We need to be willing to let go of what was and be willing to create a new thing with the Holy Spirit.
Karen Georgia A. Thompson is the Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries & Operations and Co-Executive for Global Ministries for Justice for the United Church of Christ.