On a recent phone call with my brother, he said something right before we hung up that I have not been able to shake. Now, maybe it was the fact that it was coming from my brother — a calm and collected man of few words — that made it particularly striking, but he said decisively, “Our world will not return to how it was before.”
As we hung up, I wanted to protest — to say, “Yes, it will!” The prospect of life without hugging liberally, traveling spontaneously, and throwing off the chains of fear and distance that we have adopted (rightly so) was overwhelming. Returning to life as we knew it — just in time for summer cookouts and weekend getaways and non-virtual happy hours — had been a tremendous source of hope for me this spring. After that phone call, I felt crushed and a little daunted, wondering what life would look like as we began to emerge from our days of quarantine.
As state and local governments implement the next stages of reopening, we find ourselves “in-between” — living in the threshold of what was and what will be. We have one foot in the norm of the past several weeks: more time on Zoom and more time at home, on top of a whole host of emotions related to at-risk loved ones, job losses, canceled events, and future uncertainties. At the same time, we eagerly look forward to the promise of seeing friends once again, congregating at favorite restaurants, and enjoying long beach days.
As restrictions across the country ease, it is tempting to run at full-speed toward the lure of “normalcy,” jettisoning the routines and practices that have come to mark life this spring. Yet, we must take steps forward cautiously and charitably, recognizing that there are gifts to be found in the tension of this “in-between” time that we will miss if we are hastily grasping for a return to life as we knew it.
We may do more harm than good if we fail to think intentionally about what “normalcy” now entails. Following these three guidelines will help you make the most of this threshold time.
1. Stay present
We do not know what the next few months hold, let alone the next few weeks. As much as you can, try to focus on the short-term. What can you do today, or this week?
Get out for a walk. Drop-off cookies at a loved one’s home. Plan a socially-distanced weekend picnic with friends. The key to staying present in what this week brings is recognizing with gratitude the experiences before us, while also trusting that it will not be like this forever.
Looking ahead to the fall, or even to mid-summer, may prove to be overwhelming and discouraging. So, I encourage you to think about today, tomorrow, this weekend, and next week. Delight in short-term plans, practice patience in slow changes to our quarantine lives, and resist the temptation to create expectations for weeks or months from now.
2. Consider your values
As we make short-term plans, most of us are able to move about more freely than we previously have been able to. Instead of immediately returning to our former habits and activities, think about what you want to reincorporate first by considering your values.
As someone who loves to run, I know that I plan to return to beloved bike paths as soon as they reopen. I’m also looking forward to returning to Mass when churches reopen. For you, it might be making an appointment at a salon as soon as possible in order to get a haircut or a manicure. It might be going to the local gym because you have been missing weightlifting, or visiting the local cinema to see a movie because it is a favorite pastime. You may be the first to stop by reopening boutiques to support local shops, or you may coordinate a celebration for a friend as soon as larger groups can gather.
Determine what is most important to you and opt to reincorporate related activities first, always keeping in mind your own health and the health of others. While I might be on local bike paths and returning to church in the coming weeks, I will choose to continue ordering food to-go and making purchases online, even when I have the option to dine-in and shop in-store. Think about what most gives you life and what you have been missing as you choose what to safely reincorporate first into your new normal.
3. Dwell in hope
When the camping trip with friends has to be canceled, meeting your new niece is further delayed, or you receive word about an upcoming round of lay-offs at work, I urge you to dwell in hope.
This is a period of staggering losses and sacrifices that are disruptive and scary. Although most millennials are not at high-risk of fatality from the virus, we have lost jobs and apartments, canceled weddings, witnessed loved ones suffer, and watched our plans evaporate before our eyes. In the face of so much suffering, it is even more vital to remain hopeful.
Father Jacques Philippe is a priest with the Community of the Beatitudes and a world-renowned spirituality speaker. In his book, Interior Freedom, he says that in the face of suffering, we can take on an attitude of heart that “sets us firmly in reality and conserves energy otherwise wasted on complaining, wishing things were different, dreaming of an impossible world.”
With that energy conserved by our interior disposition of hope, we can notice the acts of kindness in the local community and across the world. We can keep in mind those who are most vulnerable and do something tangible to lessen their burdens. We can pray for those on the frontlines and donate to local food banks. Our hopefulness should impel us to actively serve and work for the common good.
By living in the “in-between,” we can craft a new “normal” that is characterized by greater appreciation for the present moment, activities that more intentionally reflect our values, and spirits that choose hope over despair.
What a beautiful new world to return to.