Sunday, August 30, 2020

The New New Normal


Running errands in town yesterday, it occurred to me that, without giving it much thought, I was wearing my mask even when I didn't have to worry about any hovering hulk standing closer than the socially acceptable six feet away. But that wasn't because I'm a naturally compliant person—don't fool yourself on that one. It was for sheer self-interest that I donned my smoke-filter-equipped facial fashion statement. If COVID-19 ushered in the age of The New Normal, the California fires brought to us a new new normal.

Two weeks and counting, the twin infernos in northern California continue to make their impact on our atmosphere. The dog days of August could not possibly be the same as in past memory; everyone with any sense made sure that even their pets were inside, escaping the smoke. Who knows what life has been like on the outside; air conditioned artificial reality can make one forget it is still summer.

And where has that summer gone, anyhow? How did it escape us? The New Normal has a way of making us forget.

That actually is a misnomer. It isn't The New Normal. It's more like the new new new new normal, at least according to a New York Times publication, or its brief synopsis at Wikipedia. Which makes me feel less disappointed in myself that I didn't snap up the advice, at the beginning of this year's first New Normal, to journal the daily gyrations of life upon the onset of the pandemic. History in the making, and I missed my opportunity to tell of it. Maybe New Normal, The Sequel will be my chance to get with the documentary program.

And yet, I believe future generations will have ample opportunity to steep in the chattiness of our current age. If I don't save a pandemic diary for my descendants, they will hardly be at a loss to know what life was like in 2020. The generations I would have loved to know more about were those whose culture kept them tight-lipped and silent in the face of the tragedies they surmounted. In their new normal, they believed the best way forward was to say nothing of what was behind them.

We lack for that. Perhaps it's not in knowing what happened in any generation's experience that we mourn the loss of--we have, after all, the archived news reports of countless decades—but what we are missing is what the people who matter the most to us thought about what was happening to them. There is history—that recounting of the events with world-shaping impact—and then there is our story, the story of the people we call family. How history shaped the lives of those we love.

When I research my family lines and wonder about why an ancestor chose to do what he did, or why she was born in one country but died in another, what I'm looking for is not just a family's history. It's a yearning to have a relationship with people we never met, but who simultaneously infuse our every waking—and even sleeping—moment through the genetic strands they unwittingly bequeathed us.

Those choices we make, those actions we take, those moods which overpower us--where did they come from? I can find a specific segment on a chromosome, "paint" it on a digitized diagram approximating relative locations, and, if fortunate enough, be able to pinpoint which ancestor was the benefactor of that genetic pattern. Perhaps, as an echo of the stronger impulse impelling adoptees to find their birth parents, we who obsess with our genealogy may well be experiencing that same call from ancestors we never knew—and yet, know all too well through our own genetic signature.

It is that silent cry for relationship with those now-gone relatives that makes me wish for a token of their thoughts. I want to know what their new normal was, in crisis after crisis which swept through their life's timeline a hundred years ago or more. It isn't really just so I can glean the correct date or birthplace to enter on a pedigree chart; it's some token—some confirmation—of their reality that I can meld with my own. An impossible pursuit, perhaps, but worth the chase. After all, some of us do have ancestors who kept a written narrative on their way to a new normal.

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