Column: Nothing is normal

Published 7:07 am Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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We have all heard it said. Politicians, reporters, everyday people are almost certain to say in their speeches, reports and conversations, “the new normal.” There is nothing normal about the situation we find ourselves in.

Most mornings I find myself waking to a feeling of normalcy. It happens in that time when the mind is suspended between sleep and awareness. It doesn’t last long, perhaps a minute or so before the reality of our COVID-19 experience rushes back into my consciousness. The other morning, I didn’t even get my moment of zen. I woke up to the same thoughts of self-isolation I had fallen asleep with.

There is nothing normal about that. We are a social species. We crave contact with each other. We need to look each other in the eyes. Even for someone like me who has been known to self-isolate in a crowd, I miss the meet and greet aspect of social interaction. I miss the spontaneity of a new encounter. I miss having coffee with my friend, sitting on a coffee shop porch and watching the world walk by.

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It’s odd how my world has simultaneously shrunk and expanded. Having practiced self-isolation for nearly a month now, my view of the world has been limited to what I can see from my front porch. At the same time, my virtual world view has expanded. I watch news from countries around the world. I have been in contact with friends overseas with greater frequency. I have learned we are all in this together. COVID has become a common thread in our lives.

The other day, a friend from my younger days posted a message of loneliness on Facebook. I had only seen her once since high school, but I felt I needed to reach out. I sent her a video Facebook request. She was in a COVID hot spot. She had lost her job. We spoke for half an hour, just talking, seeking common experiences. I thought I was reaching out to help her, but the reality is I was reaching out as much for me. I needed contact with someone from the past. A reminder of what normal was.

As we move to opening up our county, her words of caution stay with me. She said, this is real, this is dangerous. Take it from someone who is living in one of the most affected areas. Don’t take the health threat lightly.

We have been lucky I told her. We began self-distancing and locked out nonresidents early in the crisis. Our confirmed COVID cases were few.

When our county is opened to those from other areas, we can only hope that the worst is over. Hope an influx of people won’t bring with them a new wave of infection. This virus – this unseen beast – preys on the old, the sick. Like a pride of lions stalking a herd of wildebeest, it will single out the most vulnerable and, if the opportunity presents itself, will not pass up the young and healthy. The beast loves crowds. As our population grows, I hope the beast grows weary; takes a hiatus.

If I owned a second home here, I would probably want to be able to access it too. If I had vacation plans, I would likely want to spend it in a beautiful place like the Outer Banks. If I owned a business, I would want to find a way to salvage, perhaps save, my business. Whatever the decision on how to open up the economy, it won’t be the same. The sun, surf and sand will be here, but social distancing will change the experience. It won’t be the same as it was before.

I think we can argue the timing of reopening the economy, but not the need. Our economy can’t sustain itself forever without generating the money it takes to fuel it. Social programs need funding. Funding needs a reliable tax base. Getting back to work is the first step. When that should happen is not as clear.

I feel a little like a lab rat. The COVID beast is called the novel coronavirus because it is new. Like everything new, there is no way to know what will happen until it happens. It is disconcerting at best to be part of an experiment. I hope our decision makers aren’t being bullied into a hasty decision.

When we reopen the county, we should remember the out of area property owners, the tourists and the business owners are not the enemy. They have the same fears and hopes. Our lives are dependent and intertwined with theirs. We owe it to them and ourselves to try and make the new normal work. Even in a world where nothing is normal.

Gregory Clark is a staff writer with The Coastland Times. Reach him at