Looking for The New Normal by Teresa Schreiber Werth

Shortly after the pandemic began to be felt in the US, I realized this was not going to be a passing event. As the necessary changes began to take hold, I was overwhelmed with the feelings of not being able to stand the changes in my life while at the same time, not being able to stop them. As a writer, I began to document what I saw happening around me and enlisted the help of other writers to document this historic time: how it felt, how we were responding, how our lives were changing. The result of this collaboration is an anthology we are publishing to help people reflect on their own losses, challenges and changes. Navigating the Pandemic: Stories of Hope and Resilience(Page Publishing) is a humanitarian project of 53 stories, poems and essays by 36 writers, ages 18-80 from 10 states and 4 countries. It is also a historical record of the early days of living with COVID-19.

The book has been almost a year in the making. It has been what has consumed most of my time, thought and energy. Not only has it been therapeutic for me, it has produced something we all hope will be useful for those who read it, helping them feel less alone in the challenges they have faced and continue to face. The process of gathering the stories quickly made me see that the pandemic was a prism of challenges, affecting many people from diverse communities in diverse ways.

And as things have morphed and changed, we keep trying to imagine the new normal” which is still very much unknown. We can imagine or wish what it will be like, but there can still be no certainty about how we will live our day-to-day-lives, post-COVID. Surges and variants are still a real part of our reality. The temptation to slip back to old, comfortable behaviors tugs at our deepest impulses for touching, socializing, relaxing and living life to the fullest. Some of us are left scarred by unrelenting grief for what we have lost, a grief for which we have no coping models.

Compared to many, my losses have been minimal. No one in my family has contracted or died from COVID. As a retiree, I never feared losing my home or job. I never experienced food insecurity or lackof medical care. I was mostly inconvenienced…and I feel fortunate for that. My “new normal” will mean I can travel to see our grandchildren, can go camping again, eat in restaurants and officiate at weddings and funerals in a more familiar way. But my sensitivities have been re-programmed. I can’t imagine going out in public without a mask. I will probably wash my hands when coming home from anywhere, for the rest of my life. Things like hugging, kissing and handshakes, if done at all, will be done with a nervous sense of caution. Traveling on crowded airplanes or attending large gatherings of any kind will always be pre-empted by an uneasy concern. Nothing from the “old normal” will ever be taken for granted.

In the past year, and I suspect every year in the near future, we will play many more table games and watch many more movies at home, have frequent and regular Zoom calls and meetings- both business and personal-, be cautious in our personal interactions and social choices. And we will all live, going forward, with the trauma of unrelenting grief, large and small, even after the pandemic is declared “over.” We have experienced pain and suffering and that pain and suffering will remain. But I believe we also have a future filled with hope and joy. I have confidence that most of us will “recover,” thanks to the resilience of the human spirit. I also believe that our hearts will never forget.

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