I’m going to start today’s newsletter by stating something that is itself patently obvious, an occurrence that happens as regularly as the sun rising each day, but is also somewhat at odds with the hopeful tone I’d like to set in the rest of this piece:
I saw a tweet the other day that really pissed me off.
I know, you’re shocked. I logged into a website whose primary purpose is to find the absolute worst opinions in the world and amplify them to the relative impact of a newspaper headline announcing the liberation of France, and I found something that irked me, just as I have each and every day for roughly the previous 4,000 days.
(I will never log off).
I won’t repost the thread here, mostly because that would require me to find it again, but the thrust of it was essentially this: “Quit acting like things are going back to normal. Things might get somewhat easier than they are now, but pre-Covid life won’t ever be back.”
Now, I’ve spent most of the year expecting the worst in many ways. When my kids’ preschool closed “for three weeks” in March, I assumed (correctly, it turned out) that returning even in the fall would be a stretch. I bought a giant bag of rice “just in case” on February 29th. The night of March 11th, following the back-to-back new flashes of beloved actor Tom Hanks’ COVID infection and the NBA’s indefinite suspension of their season, I went to the grocery store at 10pm to stock up on canned goods. Without belaboring the point further: I’ve engaged in my fair share of pessimism in 2020.
I can’t abide the notion that things will never go back to normal, though.
Things are not going to be normal for some while, and I accept that. I will happily get my vaccine the very second I am permitted to, but as a 38-year-old who is not directly useful to society in any immediate way, I know it will probably be summer at the earliest before that happens. It may be even longer than that before we realize anything approaching herd immunity and get to a point where we can completely move beyond this time, hang up our masks and freely associate without a care like our Facebook friends have been doing all along.
Beyond that, there’s knowledge we’ve gained over the last year that simply can’t be unlearned easily. The next time that I squeeze into a crowded concert venue to see a live band—something I am dying to do—I can’t imagine that the visualizations I’ve seen of how respiratory particles circulate won’t at least cross my mind. I’m not sure I ever need anyone to stand nearer than six feet behind me in line at the grocery store, though I can’t say that I especially cared for close proximity in that context to begin with. I was also probably already past the point in my life where eating from a buffet was medically advisable even before the pandemic, but I’ll definitely look even more suspiciously at an uncovered chafing dish of crab legs after all of this.
It will be an adjustment to come back from a year that’s required so much change, so much suspension of normal activity, so many things that we’ve had to learn to do differently than before. But we will go back. We will find normal again.
We will do so not just because we have to, but because normal always changes.
No year is going to be exactly like the one before it, both at the collective level and the personal. We learn things that change us, and we endure things that change us. Even if you’ve weathered 2020 relatively unscathed, there’s surely some other time in your life that serves as a bridge between Before and After, a personal trial or tragedy that’s left an indelible mark. Every year is different; every year we learn new ways of living our lives, even if those changes might happen more subtly than they have this year. Every year we find a new normal.
The only purpose that I can find in making statements like “Pre-Covid life won’t be back” is to find satisfaction in throwing cold water on the optimism of others. It’s fun to be right, and it’s easy to call an optimist a fool, because you get to revel when things go wrong. I choose instead to be heartened by the small victories; the handful of healthcare-worker friends who’ve already received their first vaccination, the promise of my parents and older relatives being included in the next wave, the first glimmers of turning talk of what we will do when this is over from idle daydreams to concrete reality.
The normal that is coming will be slightly different than the normal before, but I have to believe that a time is coming where this time will not mark everything we do. We will gather again, we will embrace again, we will breathe the same air again and we will move through the world without constant fear again.
We are just a few days past the darkest night of the year, with a long, cold winter ahead of us. But the days are already growing longer. We may not notice the extra couple minutes of sunlight until they add up to hours, but make no mistake, the change is happening. The sun doesn’t come back all at once, but it always comes back.
I hope you have a happy start to the new year; I look forward to sharing it with you.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Thank you for joining me on The Action Cookbook Newsletter in 2020. This was the 162nd and final newsletter of the calendar year, but I will be right back with you on Friday to kick off 2021 in style.
I sincerely appreciate your readership and support.