By Rajmund Dabrowski
If your ancestors did not inject you with the nostalgic lament that they are missing “the good old days,” you missed a natural element of the human experience.
This is pretty much what we are saying to ourselves these days when the “new normal” entered our daily vocabulary, though we utter these words with a rather agnostic overtone. We describe our “normal” as being different somehow, yet we are unable to describe it very precisely in most cases.
One thing we can be sure of: As someone said toward the beginning of the crisis, there will be nothing new and nothing normal about it.
We understand what nostalgia is. It’s a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life; or a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. We prop our nostalgia up with photos (the older, the better), or collections of memorabilia dotting the walls and surfaces of our homes. Dust collectors, rarities, or trinkets from numerous vacations or business trips. These are reminders of how it used to be.
Some time ago, I simply described nostalgia as the strange experience of comparing the “now” with the “then.” My study is a den of nostalgia, or “clutter,” as my wife puts it. I enjoy looking back in time and reflecting on what I should claim as my own world, wherever I am, and whenever I meet with the delights, laughter, pain, art, and arrogance of today.
But what I see today, I must to admit, is not to my liking. Relative tranquility is now replaced by anxiety. Diverse views have turned into hate speech. Human relationships have been replaced with digital contact or communication. Hand- shakes have turned into elbowing, and hugs are verboten. The facts are being replaced by theories, and fundamentalists see the end lurking just around the corner. Soon we will deal with polarized opinions about “forced” vaccinations containing digital chips.
But the above list of behaviors belongs on one shelf of “normality.” There is another to consider, one that is much more hopeful and that I hope catches on.
When we consider social separation, we may discover that we have more time to share. Invoking our imagination, some of us might note that we could now involve ourselves in activities we neglected before. Some of us are looking seriously at people experiencing homelessness, and we help them. We feed the hungry by donating to a local Food Bank, and we engage with the deeds of justice for an immigrant or two. Then there is a separate shelf of behaviors we may have missed, involving a bigger picture of our Christian way of life. We discover that there is more than worshiping once a week in a sanctuary by which we are protecting our communal status quo and tradition. So, there is more than reclaiming the old normal through re-opening the churches. We have already witnessed and engaged with the creativity of our faith communities in what is essential for the followers of Jesus: loving and caring for those who are not . . . us. Actually, as one minister said, the church does not need to open because the church never closed.
Being a believer and the Bible reader, I can marry my own nostalgia with what I see being described as the “golden era” of better things in life. This needs to be reclaimed and put into practice. In the words of Job (29:2, MSG): “Oh, how I long for the good old days, when God took such very good care of me . . .” Or, “I remember the days of long ago . . .” (Psalm 143:5, NIV). These words refer to “then,” but they push me forward. I am being reintroduced to a day when I get to create something new, and the only time I can form a future for myself, and for those around me. How about now?
Indeed, there is a new normal, a part of our experience now. How it will look tomorrow, a few months, or even years from now, we know not. Many of our fellow humans will be gone. But to us, in God’s name, belongs today and a better normal that we can create as we long for the real normal when He calls us home.
–Rajmund Dabrowski is RMC communication director and editor of Mountain Views. Email him at: [email protected]