Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What is this "new normal" they talk about?

As you might expect, over the years I’ve had a few folks take exception when I label my stories about 60 year olds as October Years” tales. As far as I know no one has argued for “September,” but quite a few of you have suggested a later month. 

Truth to tell, a while back I decided that “November” better described my moods and physical capabilities. Heck, I’ve probably dipped a toe in “December” a time or two. That’s what had me stepping forward to add “and November too” to this blog’s title.

But of course my use of “October” was never meant to be simply about age. When I first used that label I was thinking of October as a state of mind. More to the point, like the October on a calendar, our October Years (and November too) are periods of harvest---a time to gather fruits from the seeds we’ve sown and the things we’ve learned in the course of our already-long lifetime. I happen to believe that even at that age there are ways we can put that experience to good use.

I will admit that one of the risks I face in telling my October stories is the temptation to dwell on the maudlin...stressing the negatives and hardships of late life. Of course, by that stage of the game we’ve had our share of bumpy roads and unexpected detours. And there will be more of those. If we’ve been paying attention at all we should expect that. 

But recent history, the sort that has kept us house-bound for weeks on end, proves there are still “unexpected” twists and turns for which our personal life journey and the life views we have come to lean on have not prepared us to face.

If you are my age, infirmity and distress are sure to have been part of your personal experience. I can accept that. Yet lately this November mind of mine has struggled to make sense of what we are told will be a “new normal”…….a time when the cultural infirmity and deep division that already plagues our society comes face to face with a new set of societal norms. 

Long before the ugly virus raised its head what I had perceived as the chaotic unraveling of our national persona already had me wondering if what I called “normal” had always included the deep division and chaotic internal conflict that taints modern American culture. 

Here we are celebrating another Memorial Day, remembering those who paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy………..including the freedom to choose the middle road that leads to the common good, instead of stoking our extreme and divisive dreams, both right and left.

Perhaps our declining generation has been lulled by decades of relatively-civilized peace. Are we simply experiencing a regression to the human norm? Or has there been a fundamental change in the path of social evolution? Is there a new “normal” being created?

How else would you interpret the headlines that assault our sensibilities? Thousands of our people are dying every day, victims of a silent, unseen assassin. All around us small businesses are devastated, paying their own ultimate price. Unemployment has reached unimaginable levels, signaling potential distress and disaster for millions.

Sadly, those intimidating events have too-often left us numb to the already-existing world of social problems we have failed to resolve. Our “old normal” was the one where homeless camps lined our streets and filled our parks…….where wide-eyed young men unleashed their lethal revenge in our high schools…….and an ever-increasing number of our people, young and old, depended on mind-altering pharmaceuticals? 

Long before Covid-19 took center stage it already seemed as though our beloved nation was drowning in a tsunami of insanity. Our towns and neighborhoods struggled to stay afloat, while finger pointing and blame-game politics  stirred the flames of governmental dysfunction, displacing bipartisan problem solving. 

In a world of spiteful politics and crushing, always mounting debt, most of which will never be repaid, the great majority of us will be hung out to dry as the Wall Street and Washington vultures slowly circle, fighting for their piece of the pie before it vanishes into the economic quicksand. The supposedly “drained swamp” still hides menacing creatures, and smells as bad as ever.

Surely I am not the only one who wonders what has happened to the world I knew. Even before the virus it was becoming harder to recognize the place where I grew up and perhaps thought I understood. Small wonder the October characters I write about are apt to stumble as they try to make sense of it.

Chances are every one of us grew up hearing our parents grumble about “the younger generation,” and how things were not that bad in “the good old days.” Perhaps we heard hints of ancient wisdom in their words……..of times when age was equated with hard-earned knowledge. Truth to tell, I keep getting older, but the elder-wisdom I once heard of seems to have eluded me.

There was a time in the world of our childhood and adolescence, when we felt comfortable in the world we knew. Today’s virus-induced normal has brought with it an unsettling dose of uncertainty. What will it look like ……tomorrow’s post-virus world? What should we be doing to get ready for what comes next? 

For some of us this crazy new world impacts our ability to “thrive in our 60s and 70s.” In those moments, I like to think it is my sometimes-faulty elder-wisdom nudging me ahead……reminding me that even at our age we have reasons to look ahead, beyond these uncertain times.

I would appreciate your help here, your input. (The email link below is easy to use.) As always I'd be interested in hearing your input via “Reply.”

With that, I will try to calm down a bit in time for the next post.

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