Normal is gone. It seemed to be here, not too long ago. But it isn’t here now. Normal is not coming back, either. Like the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – we need to deal with the fact that we need to get over our dependence on “normality.” Normal is gone. Get over it.
When Things Get Back to Normal
“Normalcy” or even more common, “normality,” are not easily agreed upon. There is no normal. We can never return to it. Normalcy wasn’t even a concept about the predictable nature of leading a “normal” life. Normalcy was not in the lexicon of normal people previous to Warren G Harding’s presidential campaign in 1920.
As a concept, normalcy was a term from mathematics, or geometry, something about angles. But it was only 100 years ago it became widely associated with our desires for predictable outcomes, stability, and relationships. Sure we had the word normal, but that carries different meaning (more on that later.)
Harding stated, “America’s need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy” (May 14, 1920). So many of the practices of the Harding administration didn’t really come close to getting back to the good ‘ole days of pre-World War I. Sadly, while on a tour of the Pacific western states, Harding developed complications which led to his death in 1923, setting up Calvin Coolidge as president. At the time, Harding was playing on the insulated and nationalistic nostalgic self-definition many in the United States had of themselves. But it was shallow vision which excluded all manner of considerations. After Harding’s death, the scandal of Tea Pot Dome was revealed, as well as the illegal dealings of cabinet members, known as the “Ohio Gang.” The Ohio Gang was described as “rank opportunists who worked together as a matter of expediency,” (Ohio History Central).
The Trouble with Normal, is it Always Gets Worse
It might be oversimplifying the lessons of US presidential history, but aiming for normalcy doesn’t seem to work too well. For all the attempts to get to the good ‘ole days, the political history of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover in the decade of the 1920s, reveals a momentous failure. The corruption of the Harding administration and the befriending of big oil and banking interests enabled the blindness of Republicans to the economic turmoil that boiled over in 1929 with Great Depression. Nostalgia for the past, for the days of normalcy, was incapable of establishing a future objective and path.
Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse (Bruce Cockburn, 1981).
Please, Do Not Ask for Normal
I have said it, you’ve probably said it. “When things get back to normal…” Then we add, usually some kind of activity or behavior. Like, when things get back to normal, then we can go to high school football games, meet at a restaurant, gather together for worship. Normalcy stands out like a dream of an easier and more familiar time.
But only if you were privileged. Since normal broke, we have seen racial injustice. The lack of resources has made the gap between the rich and poor event greater. Wall Street banks have had some of their most prosperous earnings ever, while millions struggle keep their housing.
Normal, normalcy, and all the privileged stability they imply is why we are where we are. Do not ask for normal. Normal is why we are here.
Can’t Go Back to Eden
There are a number of problems with the idol we have made of normalcy. We don’t really need to get into all that. From the pilgrimage of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel, the dreams of the prophets, and the promise from the simple phrase “thy kingdom come,” hope has never been in the norms of the past.
the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to farm the fertile land from which he was taken. He drove out the human. To the east of the garden of Eden, he stationed winged creatures wielding flaming swords to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3.23-24).
So, there you have it. The promise of Eden, of provision, of meaningful work, of human balance and flourishing is not in going back. Going back promises only a stalemate, at best, with the “winged creatures wielding flaming swords.”
Normal is gone, get over it.