Everything Is Not Normal

Everything Is Not Normal April 9, 2021

When things are not normal, why do we open up events to large crowds? Image from: geralt at pixabay

COVID19 continues to be a threat. The pandemic is not over. Why, then, are we as a society constantly finding excuses to ignore the dangers which continue to be before us? Why do we try to act like everything is normal? Every time we have some good news, people seem to treat it as indicating the coronavirus threat has been eliminated. It hasn’t. A little advance, such as a decline in the number of newly infected people, or a rise in the number of people who have been vaccinated, does not mean we can, or should, return to the way things were.

Yes, it is understandable that people are getting tired of dealing with COVID19. People want to do what they used to do. But now is not the time. Now is not the time to stop social distancing, to take off masks, to act like everything is normal. Everything is not normal.

Because everything is not normal, the more we try to act like it is, the worse off we will be. Take, for example, the recent NCAA Tournament held in Indianapolis. While, perhaps, the tournament could have been held, if it was done with strict guidelines which included no fans being at the games (and, therefore, in Indianapolis, where the tournament was taking place), the decision to welcome fans at the games meant COVID19 restrictions would not be properly enforced. The players and teams might have been required to keep strictly to themselves, but that was not going to be, and was not, expected of the fans. As such, the fans, when they were in Indianapolis, were crowded together, partying, acting like everything was normal and COVID19 did not exist: “By many accounts, large crowds of maskless fans were roaming downtown during much of the tournament.”[1]

Sadly, what happened during the tournament, and what will be happening in its wake, were predictable. COVID19 was not going to stay away because it was a sporting event or the fans wanted to party. It was going to spread by the contact the fans had with one another as well as within the surrounding community. We already have experienced COVID19 deaths connected to the tournament: the first was an Alabaman fan who died of COVID19 after returning home from the tournament, and the second was a worker at a local Indianapolis restaurant who was one of many workers at the restaurant who became infected with COVID19.  How many people were around the Alabama fan? How many people visited the restaurant and came in contact with the infected staff? How many of them have likewise become infected, gone around the city unprotected, infecting others, before returning home, and likewise, infecting even more unsuspecting people? Indianapolis is likely to have a rise in COVID19 cases thanks to the tournament, but also, it is likely that the fans who were in Indianapolis will spread the virus when they return home, so we will see new spikes emerging elsewhere.

While we can appreciate why people wanted to go to the tournament, it really should not have been opened up as it was; the infections and deaths which come out of it were predictable, and as such, those who were involved with the tournament., those who decided to open things up, as well as the government officials who promoted the event, are culpable for what happens next. Truly, what we saw was indeed, March Madness. It was mad to think things can go back to normal.

It seems we have not yet learned what we can from our experience with the pandemic. We should have learned how we are in this together. We should have seen real world examples of how what one person can adversely affect the rest of us. Selfishness leads to destruction. Carelessness leads to destruction. Indifference leads to destruction. We must care. We must care for each other and the world we live in. If we don’t, things will only get worse. Together, we can do what is necessary, not only to deal with COVID19, but with other existential threats surrounding us today. We still have time to deal with climate change. We still have time to deal with poverty. We still have time to deal with racism.

People who don’t want to deal with the problems facing us as a society often find all kinds of excuses to ignore or reject the truth, including, and especially through the creation of conspiracy theories. They want us to believe everything is normal and everything is fine. But things are not fine, and they have not been fine for a long time. COVID19 should serve as a wakeup call, but it seems, rather, people still want to deny their responsibility to the world. They want to abdicate their role as stewards over the earth and deny that they have any moral responsibility over the welfare of their neighbor.

We need to listen to Pope Francis. He understands the threats which we face. He sees how and why COVID19 connects with the threats we have been dealing with before COVID19. If we listen, we should realize how and why we cannot  return to the way things were in the past, but rather, how we must take what we have learned from COVID19 and use it to deal with other threats, because the threats we face have many in common:

The eruption of the pandemic, within the broader context of global warming, the ecological crisis and the dramatic loss of biodiversity, represents a summons to our human family to rethink its course, to repent and to undertake an ecological conversion (cf. Laudato Si’, 216-221). A conversion that draws on all our God-given gifts and talents in order to promote a “human ecology” worthy of our innate dignity and common destiny. This is the hope I expressed in my recent Encyclical Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship. “How wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation could come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, even as we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us!” (No. 31).[2]

Sadly, too many people are selfish. They don’t care about other. They only care for themselves and whatever it is they desire in the moment.  They say that is what freedom is about, the freedom to pursue all the pleasure they want without being held responsible for the consequences of what they do. They say freedom means no one can tell them what to do. Their individualism, Pope Francis points out, is a dangerous ideology: “It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.” [3] Thus, we must confront this ideology, showing how and why it hurts everyone, including those who live it out. The good they gain in the moment will not last, and then they, like everyone else, will have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

“If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. “[4] We must look beyond ourselves. We must realize the pains and sorrows of others. We must care for others. When we do so, we will begin to think about more than ourselves, but the good of the community. If we embrace this awareness, if we work for the common good, we will find out that helping the community will result in our own long-term benefit as well. This is what we need to learn now, sooner than later, if we are going to survive. For the pandemic is just one threat among many which we will be facing in our lifetime. We might experience more, worse pandemics. We will certainly experience the ramifications of climate change, and the destruction which it brings. But if we come together, we will be able to pull our resources and find new ways to deal with the problems at hand. If we do not, then what we experience today will be far less pain and suffering from the new normal which is to come.

[1] Shari Rudavsky, “Officials Call March Madness A Success, But COVID-related Deaths Cast Shadow Over Event” in The Indianapolis Star (4-6-2021).

[2] Pope Francis, “Message On The Occasion Of The Plenary Session Of The Pontifical Academy Of Sciences.” Vatican translation (10-7-2020).

[3] Pope Francis, “A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts,” in The New York Times (11-26-2020).

[4] Pope Francis, “A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts.”


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