Father Tom Kovatch preaches to the members of his flock watching via Facebook Live during Mass livestreamed from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Bloomington, Ind., March 24, 2020. (CNS photo/Katie Rutter)

Normalcy: A Year Later

How can we prepare for a return to life?

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“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.” That’s what I’ve said to myself. But what does that mean? What do I think that’s going to be like? A year has passed and we’re still not there.

I still look forward to the day when things like physical distancing, face masks and sheltering aren’t part of our daily life, and I can go shopping or go to church or to the beach when I want. I look forward to the day when my routines become routine again.

I’m so tired of being afraid of a virus I can’t see, a virus hidden inside me that I may spread unknowingly to loved ones and strangers alike.

We’re afraid for the people on the front lines who are risking their lives every day. I feel for those who’ve lost their jobs, and the people who feel ashamed because they can’t care for their families, even though it’s not their fault.

I’m even more tired of the news and politics and constantly changing information, and wondering who to listen to or what to believe. I am angry that I don’t feel much control in my life.

I’m still sad because of what I’ve missed and lost — funerals and weddings, religious feasts and birthdays, and being separated from family and friends, as well as people in the hospital when they needed support.

I’m sick and tired of this mixed bag of feelings and just want things to get back to normal. Our lives have been changed by these very difficult circumstances while dealing with this pandemic.

And yet, I’m pretty sure of two things: We’re all having the same reactions; and things can’t go back to the way they used to be. We can’t make things “the way they would have been if this virus had never happened.” That’s not going to happen. To use another image: A lot of water has passed under the bridge, and we can’t push all that water back to where it came from.

A vaccine won’t immediately solve all of our problems.. Anger will linger; fears will persist; painful memories will not simply go away. All businesses will not reopen immediately, and everyone’s job won’t be restored.

Prep for What’s Coming

So what can we do now and how can we prepare for what’s coming?

We have plenty of reasons to feel pained and angry and anxious and afraid. These are our feelings, and we can’t make them disappear. On the other hand, we also don’t have to dwell on them. We don’t have to continue to repeat over and over what happened, how we were cheated out of something that we had looked forward to. Those things are true, and they are now a part of our history. Bringing them up repeatedly keeps stirring up those uncomfortable feelings.

There is no magic pill that makes the feelings go away — not alcohol, or food, or a drug, or shopping. Save yourself the disappointment and don’t bother trying. Try this instead: Name your feelings, whatever they are; accept them and let yourself feel them when they come. Then, set them aside and move on to something else.

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BEST WAY TO MOVE ON

“When conflicts are not resolved but kept hidden or buried in the past, silence can lead to complicity in grave misdeeds and sins. Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest and patient negotiation. Conflict between different groups ‘if it abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice.’”

— Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, No. 244

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We can also decrease the intensity of our feelings by listening to ourselves — how do we think and talk about what’s happening? Using extreme words like always and never, everyone and impossible, leads to keeping our emotions elevated. On the other hand, expressions like sometimes, once in a while, and hard to do, can alleviate the intensity of feelings that make us uncomfortable. Thinking more carefully and more positively can bring some relief to our intense emotions.

Thinking and speaking more inclusively also helps. My favorite word is “and,” because it helps us describe several aspects of the same reality that are all true — “I hate being cooped up in the house, and I enjoy the extra time to be quiet and read.”

Helpful Practices

This might be a good time to practice the virtue of patience. Getting to a “new normal” is going to take time. So being patient with ourselves, our families and neighbors, the people at work and our leaders can be helpful. Continuing to observe guidelines for keeping a safe physical distance and sheltering requires more patience — and these are also positive actions we can take for the sake of our loved ones and our whole community. Patience might also mean making realistic plans as we ease into a new normal. If we don’t expect things to change quickly, we won’t be so frustrated when they don’t.

Mindfulness is another helpful practice. We can learn to be more attentive and grateful for things we may take for granted. Can you slow down and taste your food? Or have a conversation with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while?

We can also choose to do some special things and create good memories. Can you go outside and enjoy the senses that come alive with the arrival of spring? Can you do something special that makes this time memorable for more than being locked up in the house? Try to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do.

Start Making Plans

We don’t have to wait for our emancipation before we do something. We can be proactive, starting to make some plans (such as where we’ll take a vacation); then, even if we don’t know when that will happen, we have something to look forward to. Having some plans, even if they need to be tweaked later, can also help decrease our anxiety. There are so many possibilities rather than simply reacting to whatever happens next.

We can also be creative. We can think outside the box; we can allow ourselves to imagine new possibilities and not just fall back to the old way of doing things. Instead of landing on the first idea, make a list of two or five or ten; even making the list is an exercise of creativity. Invite the others you live with to join in. Consider what you have learned in these past weeks: What do you want to keep and what do you want to be different as you move forward?

For quite a while, we’ve been making adjustments because of the virus, and there’s more to come. Let’s enjoy the adventure, and use this time of “advent” to prepare for what’s still to come. Let’s resolve to be patient, mindful, proactive and creative.

FATHER KENNETH W. SCHMIDT is an advocate for priestly ministry and support in the Diocese of Kalamazoo.

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Some Reflection Questions

Father Schmidt relates that what has happened to us deserves some time for reflection, and he has written some questions that might be helpful:

• How have I been affected by the existence of the virus?

• How have I responded?

• I often wish I had more time; now that I do, how do I use that time?

• Do I need to make amends to some people I live with for how I’ve reacted?

• Do I need to extend forgiveness to others for what they did or didn’t do?

• What have I learned about myself (and others) that will be helpful in the future?

• Have I established a healthy habit that I don’t want to lose?

• Are there some things my family and I learned — things we can do differently or try for the first time?

• Do I want to shift around some of my priorities — for example, slowing down, spending more time with family, making more social connections or connecting with nature?

• Are there values or actions I want to promote in my community or my country?

• Are there systemic changes I want to foster in health care, the environment, in government?

• What new memories would you like to create?

• Did I discover a new way to relax or care for myself or find an enjoyable way to spend some leisure time?

• Am I in a position to help someone else (which can also help take my mind off my own problems for a while)?

• Can I be a stronger advocate for myself and my family and ask for help when it’s needed? (Asking for help doesn’t mean I’m a failure; it means I don’t have to do it alone. There are organizations ready to assist me when I let them know.)

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