COLUMN: Let’s consider what we agree to think of as ‘normal’

Now that B.C. has officially entered Phase Two of measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, what exactly does that mean?

Coming off a long two months of severe restrictions, it’s tempting to interpret it as a licence to return to a normal (or near-normal) way of life. And, in a way, it is. Except, we’re told that what awaits us all is, in fact, the “new normal.”

And we’re not there yet.

Restaurants, pubs and retailers, along with some businesses that offer services requiring close personal contact, can now begin to reopen under a whole new set of rules designed to help keep both employees and clients as safe as possible. Think lots of empty tables and Plexiglas barriers.

The government is in the process of exploring what a return to classroom-based learning will look like for students across B.C. – plenty of empty desks and no sharing pencils or books, one assumes.

And we’re able now to expand our bubbles, allowing a few more people to enter our orbit. Who and to what degree?

Well, that’s up to us, but we’re encouraged to keep it tight-knit and not have random people coming and going from our bubbles. That’ll douse the Tinder crowd’s flame, but good.

We’re told that many of the adjustments we’ve made to our lives these past few months will become standard operating procedure for the next, well, who knows?

It’s new, for sure, but it’s far from normal. And, frankly, I don’t want it to be. I’m not looking forward to the day that it feels perfectly natural to stop short of hugging a friend you haven’t seen in ages, to avoid shaking the hand of someone you’re meeting for the first time or to stand several feet away from strangers and stress out if they get too close.

Common polite gestures have already led me into some socially awkward situations. For example, out of habit I held a door for a senior in my building, only to have her look at me like I was trying to do her in.

Several times I’ve had to decline, with an apologetic grimace, as someone held an elevator for me. “After you” has been replaced by “I’ll take the next one.”

Occasionally, I’ve forgotten myself and tried to hand someone an item, rather than leave it on a table and step back while they retrieve it.

I’ve washed my hands to the point that they’ve cracked and bled and I have an actual opinion on which mask design is the most functional.

You know, perfectly normal stuff.

If you’re looking for an upside (and at this point, who isn’t?) I’m happy to say there is at least one.

For those of us who value our personal space, standing in a lineup without the guy behind breathing down our neck or doing that obnoxious creep – as though that extra three inches he’s gained will get him to the cash register any quicker – makes for a nice change.

The flip side of this (you knew there was a catch, right?) is that it’s now a lot tougher to linger in supermarket aisles and comparison shop or to pick out fresh produce while someone hovers nearby, waiting for their turn at the turnips.

As uncomfortable as it is, the closer we adhere to these “new normal” guidelines, the sooner many of them – but by no means all – will be rendered unnecessary.

In the meantime, as we await the development of a vaccine, we need to remind ourselves what’s at stake.

For many seniors and those among us whose health is already compromised, it is actually a matter of life and death. There is likely at least one person in everyone’s life who fits this criteria – someone you would love to hug, if only you could.

I, for one, hope this new normal continues to feel awkward and alien, so that we don’t just settle in and accept it, but instead do everything we can now to speed our return to a world of handshakes, hugs and held elevators.

You know, perfectly normal stuff.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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