I ventured out into my small, rural, Northwestern Pennsylvania community yesterday for the first time since March 13. I went to Goodwill and to Walmart.
I wore a homemade mask. I didn’t touch anything that I didn’t put into my cart and I bought everything I put into my cart. I followed the one-way-lane arrows on the floor. I waited six feet behind other shoppers if they stopped to look at something.
I did my best. Every other shopper had a mask on as well. But I couldn’t help notice how much they touched everything. And the one-way-lane thing was a complete bust. People passed me if I stopped to look. And lots of people just disregarded the arrows completely.
Zero lanes were one way.
Here’s what I learned yesterday: I’m not ready to relax my personal stay-at-home order, no matter what the governor of Pennsylvania has to say about it. By the time I got home, I was an anxious mess.
The whole episode made me think though. What does learning to live with this new reality actually look like? Because that’s the real question for everyone, isn’t it? It’s very clear that this isn’t a short-term disruption.
This is a new normal. Instead of thinking about how we can go back to the old normal, we need to learn how to live with the new normal.
Here are some things that are on my mind, two months into this pandemic.
I’m not willing to start shopping in stores. Yesterday’s foray taught me that. I’m going to wait to try again for a few weeks, when I see what happens with the Pandemic in my state after this first phase of relaxing the lock down.
I’m also not willing to require people to work in meat and egg packing plants so that I can feed my family cheap protein. We’ll be buying local. I think this is going to be our long-term new normal, too. No more grocery store meat or eggs for us.
At some point, we’re going to have to start living again. I’m not talking about hitting the shops or eating at restaurants. I’m talking about routine medical appointments and peeking out of absolute isolation.
This is not a short-term crisis.
Isn’t that clear by now? This is happening and it’s going to keep happening for months. And because it’s happening, things are changing.
Just before my family started social distancing, my Facebook feed was full of Democrats talking about who they were supporting for president. A refrain I heard over and over went something like this: I don’t want a revolution right now, I just want things to go back to normal.
Revolution, they said, can wait.
Life had other ideas, I guess. Because revolution is here. It’s happening. It’s being televised. We will not come out of this the same as we went into it. The faster we learn to live with our new reality, the better.
So, how do we do that?
I wish I had easy answers. I’m not sure there are any. There are some things that seem more obvious to me than others, though.
If you own a business, pivoting is essential.
I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and as I drove through my town’s little main street, I noticed the closed up flower shop. I thought to myself — if I owned a flower shop, I’d come up with a subscription service. Charge people a set price every month for biweekly flower deliveries. We’re stuck inside. How nice would flowers be? I’d pay for that.
What can you do to reach out to people in a different way? How can you serve the people you serve, taking their new reality into account?
We’re going to have to figure out what connection looks like now.
The news is full of people (you know who they are) saying things like we can’t stay closed forever and we have to start living again.
What they mean is that they want the economy to poof go right back to the old normal. They want businesses to open and consumers to get back to work, so that they can get back to consuming.
And, let’s be real, so that those consumers (the lowest paid of them, by the way) can get back to serving us. We want haircuts, damn it. And to be served by a real waitress.
The old normal isn’t coming back anytime soon. Even if all the restrictions are lifted, most people aren’t comfortable getting back to it. With good reason.
But we’re social animals. Even introverts, it turns out. I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much hiding out in my bedroom I can do. I’ve found my limit the last two months.
So, we’re going to have to figure out how to be around other people safely. Maybe some kind of communal way of living — where we widen our circle of fellow social distancers.
Eventually, maybe we can have a meal with a neighbor, or share childcare duties with a friend, or be around our extended families — as long as everyone is following the guidelines.
I think that eventually, our spheres will widen.
Food is going to become more and more of an issue.
The food chain is alarmingly messed up. And, there are millions more Americans who are food insecure than there were just several weeks ago.
The new normal will have to take that into account.
Victory gardens. Small producers — like the woman who sells me a dozen of her backyard eggs every week. Less waste.
Food, at every level (from farm to table,) is definitely one of those things that will be changed intensely by this thing. We can’t let people die so that we can eat cheap meat. We can’t let food rot in the fields while people are hungry. We can’t have 30+ million unemployed people (and their families) going without food.
I’m doing my best to pay better attention. We aren’t buying meat or eggs from the grocery store anymore. Hard stop. I’ve got some seedlings ready to go into my own little victory garden.
We’re going to have to face the facts: school might not be a thing next year.
At least, not the way we’re used to. When I try to imagine sending my daughter to her high school for the tenth grade next year — well, I can’t. It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.
Her teachers are already talking to her about the possibility that school might not be back in the fall.
And to be honest, it goes beyond that. Ruby has spent so long so, so overbooked. She’s a two sport athlete, a social butterfly, an artist, a straight-A student. She never has time to really focus on any of it.
Except now, she does. Now, she can get her school work done in a couple of hours a day and she doesn’t have basketball or soccer, beyond a workout her basketball coach sends her every day that takes no more than an hour and is pleasant.
Now, she has time for art. And to help me plant that victory garden. And, you know, for getting a full eight hours of sleep every night.
I know I’m not the only parent contemplating what it would be like to just not re-insert my kid back into the school grind. At least not unless she really, really wants it. And, surprisingly, she doesn’t seem anxious to get back. She misses her friends. She misses sports and her art teacher and a few other things.
I can’t even begin to imagine what college will look like for kids Ruby’s age. We’ll have to wait and see. But it definitely seems like the new normal won’t look exactly like the old normal did.
My daughter posted a meme tonight that resonated with me.
What if we really did go forward instead? First, we have to figure out what that looks like.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation, Rebel Nation, The Astonishing Maybe, and Center of Gravity. She is the original Ninja Writer.