I’m writing this just as Premier Andrews is announcing that our 5-day lockdown is over.
Our new COVID ‘normal’ was interrupted by a different kind of COVID normal – an outbreak that needed to be contained. I suspect that these 2 things together will be our new normal for the foreseeable future.
It does pose the question: what is normal?
When I was studying statistics and things like bell-curves, it became very clear that the idea of normal is not very useful nor all that illuminating. All it produces is a reference point, a line in the sand, against which all other things are compared; everything either side of it is moving away from what is generally regarded as normal.
Hmmm, sounds like I’m on the cusp of crafting some kind of riddle!
Let me offer an example. My sister’s husband died in July 2019 after 10 years or periodic surgery for brain tumours. It was a long hard journey but my brother-in-law was a natural comedian and would find the funny side of everything. We were chatting on FaceTime at the weekend, and she was telling me that she hadn’t yet got around to packing up his clothes and giving them away. In one of those difficult to distinguish laughing / crying moments, she blurted, “Is this normal, David? Am I going mad”?
A brotherly conversation followed, but her question makes the point.
Of course, there are lots of things that have the name tag ‘normal’. For example, we ‘normally’ drive on the left-hand side of the road etc. – normal things like that prevent a lot of chaos.
But in other things, like grieving, for example, there is no such thing as normal. There are patterns but there is nothing normal about how we go about navigating it.
The same goes for Spirituality. Over the years people have said to me things like: “I’m not very good at praying – is that normal”? Or, “I don’t get much out of reading the bible – am I normal”? Or, I really don’t have a problem with other people holding to other faiths or world views – is this normal”? Or, “I love the Jesus story but I don’t need the virgin birth or bodily resurrection stuff to feel faithful – is this normal”?
The problem with ‘normal’ is that it starts to create unhelpful judgements about ourselves and about others.
I think we should drop the word from our vocabulary and learn to be more at peace with sitting somewhere along the circumference of a large circle rather than on a straight line on either side of what someone else thinks is ‘normal’.