Forget the Normal

As I look back on “what was” and “what could have been,” I realize that normal isn’t always the best way, or the only way, for things to be. Although vaccine rollouts across the globe provide us with hope that one day, everything might return to normal, it’s also important to ask ourselves what might happen when “one day” doesn’t come any time soon. How will we adjust to the “new normal?”

Nearly a year has passed since Covid-19 first seeped into our lives, and I’ve finally come to realize: I need to reevaluate this desire for normalcy. Things won’t return to the way they were with the snap of a finger or even within a few weeks. The virus has changed our lives, and it’s time to accept the possible long-term changes of the pandemic. The world has changed, and I need to adjust my notions and standards of living according to this new reality. I need to live with this understanding because that is the only way that I can keep seeking happiness in the midst of these uncertain times.

Although it is only January, it has been quite a Junior year for me. My decision to attend Andover represented a new chapter of my life, and I was ready to jump in and tackle it fiercely. Even before stepping foot onto campus, I created a perfect picture of Andover in my mind, and after months of the application process, I felt like I earned and deserved to live it out.

I was lucky enough to be on campus for Fall Term. I was lucky enough to meet people in real life, even with masks covering most of their faces. I was lucky enough to get a taste of what school life would be. But that still didn’t seem enough. I was holding on tightly, almost desperately, to that word—normal.

What would Andover be like if everything was normal? What would classes, club meetings, and sports practices be like if the pandemic had never happened? I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, comparing, and noticing how every single activity and event paled in comparison to what a normal year would offer. And though I was able to see parts of the Andover I had envisioned, my eyes only noticed its cracks and imperfections.

After a conversation with a friend, however, my perception of Andover—along with my hopes and expectations—flipped. As I was lying down on her bed in her dorm room, lamenting the many changes the pandemic had brought, she expressed her hopes: “I don’t want to look back on this year and think I wasted my life. I want to spend this time doing the things I love and make the most out of it.”

At that moment, I realized that I was fantasizing about the greener grass on the other side of the fence and neglecting the amazing things I could do with my own lawn. By holding onto this unrealistic desire for normalcy, I had given up on pursuing my happiness in the current situation.

Life, even if dramatically different, still went on. Socially distanced social gatherings, Zoom All-School Meetings, Padlet posts, and Canvas courses were what I had, and maybe I had to accept them for what they were without scrutiny.

Soon, I began to see all the opportunities that were provided to me, ones that I wouldn’t have gotten in a normal year. Although I spent almost all my days at home, I was able to dedicate more hours to doing things I loved, such as trying fun baking recipes and connecting with my family. Online classes also required new ways of conducting things, introducing me to apps and websites I wouldn’t have even known the names of. With more alone time, I was free to sit with my thoughts and emotions, a crucial task but one I’d too often neglected. During the pandemic, I felt like I’d reached new levels of self-love and growth.

This perspective doesn’t change the fact that we are living in challenging and scary times. My head is still constantly full of these pressing questions: when will the pandemic end? When will parties and vacations start to feel safe? When will I be able to laugh about online school and visit crowded shops? In my opinion, it’s only natural to feel worried about the uncertainty of our future. But the most important thing I’ve come to recognize is that my happiness can and should be a constant in this everchanging equation of life.

I can be happy even though I’m not getting everything I dreamed of. I can be happy even though it’s January and I still don’t know half my classmates’ faces. I can be happy even though I have no idea what Spring Term will look like. I can be happy, and I deserve to be happy—and to do so, I have to stop looking back at the past and focus on the present, and fully appreciate it for what it is.