A Premature Normal

Through this pandemic, and for the past couple of years, all we have been able to think about, all society has been able to think about, is when we get to return to “normal.” But that feels impossible, and I truly don’t believe that we will ever go back to how things were. This is hardly an original thought, but one that I find important to stress because we are in yet another period of transition, one where we have to decide whether we will let a virus control our lives, or whether we will have the conviction to live with liberty.

There are things that will probably never resurface, for example, testing public lipsticks in makeup stores, or maybe even those beloved food samples at Costco (I don’t really know; I haven’t been to that paradise in a while). There are habits that we will never shake, such as always carrying around hand sanitizer or an extra mask in our pocket. Expanded outdoor dining is a mainstay now, and carrying around vaccine cards has been normalized. We all know this, and we are all painfully aware of the consequences that this virus has waged in our lives. But this is our new reality, and after such an extended period of time having to deal with these circumstances, we can adjust our lifestyles to fit these new guidelines. We can, and we should, toughen up, and follow the rules. It really is not that hard.

Recently, the mask mandate was lifted in the U.S., particularly for domestic travel. Some states never had mask mandates or vaccine requirements, but now things seem to be changing again. During the early stages of Covid-19, it was rare to have someone you know contracting it, whereas now we have dozens of people on this campus coming down with symptoms and finding that dreaded “T” line on their test indicating Covid-19 positivity. It feels like everyone was overreacting at first, with hundreds of cases a day, compared to now—when there are thousands of new cases a day, restrictions are being lifted, and people are exercising more of their freedom. There have been constant records for new daily cases, and the media glosses over these statistics with startling regularity. It is almost as if the catastrophe is no longer at the forefront of our minds, that this deadly disease has taken a backseat.

I think this return to “normal,” whatever that means anyway, is premature. My question is: is it really that hard to wear a mask? Is it so hard to enter an indoor space, and have a piece of fabric, or paper, or plastic wrapped around your nose and mouth? Is that so difficult? And I guess it really comes down to the question of priorities. What matters to you more? Your immunocompromised grandparents or your unending need to breathe freely in an indoor space? Personally, I would rather have five more years with my grandparents and know that the three extra months I had to endure wearing a mask were worth it. I wore a mask for six hours on a plane so that I wouldn’t bring the virus to my family. I want to know that I did everything I could and followed the rules to keep myself and my family safe.

Adapting to this new normal doesn’t feel like a lot to ask, at least to me. We have been wearing masks for long enough and dealing with the ramifications of a global pandemic for a long enough time that we should know what to expect. Particularly in a school that prides itself on “non sibi,” it is important to think of the consequences of your actions. This is not meant to be a reprimand because everyone has made decisions that weren’t always thought through. But I urge everyone to just take that extra moment and think about how your actions impact others. Does wearing the mask over your nose really put such a damper on your day? Can you really not handle the stress of having to be responsible and respectful when you are in an airport? It doesn’t have that much of an effect on you, and it is so easy to brush it off saying that it isn’t your problem. But that attitude, that need to return to a sense of normalcy without thinking of the impact that it has on others is the whole reason why this mess has gotten so untenable. We need to work together in order to collectively return to a new normal. We need to think about how we can serve our communities more effectively and efficiently. It isn’t about the self anymore, it is about the we.