Essays,  Life during COVID-19,  My Quarantine Journal

Returning to not-so-normal life

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

Yesterday I met an old friend for lunch on the outdoor patio at Three Cats Cafe. From the start, the two of us were overcome by delight, wondering aloud when we’d last seen each other (at least a year ago). The sun was on my back, my vegetarian “scallops” were perfect, and the company of a vaccinated friend who’s been around since the early days of my writing career was soul-nourishing. It was a sentimental moment — or maybe it just felt that way because we are writers who seize joy anywhere we can find it. 

Thanks to the Pfizer vaccine, I’ve had several moments like that recently. Moments when I’ve stepped outside my cloistered pandemic comfort zone to join the outside world of business and commerce. 

Each time I do, I can’t help but recall a favorite scene from the film, Private Benjamin (1980). It’s the scene in which Goldie Hawn, exhausted from the rigors of basic training in the army, says, “I wanna wear my sandals…I wanna go out to lunch…I wanna be NORMAL again!”

Yes indeed, it’s a gift to be able to put on decent clothes and eat a lovely meal that someone else cooked for you. Finally. Through the lens of retrospect, I now appreciate so many ordinary pleasures that I took for granted before the pandemic.

“Life went back to normal after that, as it will do if you’re not careful.” ~Michael Montoure

So, I have to repeat it here: Enjoying meals in restaurants and revisiting other aspects of pre-pandemic life wouldn’t be possible if not for the vaccine I received a couple of months ago. I’m always astounded to learn there are folks who refuse to get the vaccine because of fear, political propaganda, or medical misinformation. A beloved relative of mine was one of those people: She died quickly, two weeks ago, just a few days after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Our family is still trying to process the sad news.

But even when our country recovers from this public health crisis, I don’t want to return completely to the old ways of normal. 

The total disruption of the past year held a magnifying glass to things that weren’t working even before the pandemic. The isolation of sheltering in place forced me to sit still and examine what’s been gnawing like a team of carpenter ants on my peace of mind. I’ve confronted some messes and problems I’d previously tolerated or tried to ignore — including my kitchen drawers and some toxic relationships. 

Likewise, the pandemic provided a dubious opportunity to take inventory of what Hemingway would have called the “broken places” in my psyche. Too often in the past, I had resigned myself to old patterns and routines, outdated career plans, and even emotional wounds that no longer served me. 

I think we all do this because changing or improving anything under the sun requires energy and hard work. It’s easier to settle for less. And it’s easier to cling to the familiar, even if it hurts. It takes raw courage to face the uncomfortable fact that something needs to be healed or fixed — or that we’ve simply outgrown it. 

After all we’ve endured for the past 13 months, we deserve an upgrade. 

Normal is relative and often overrated. What if we could emerge from this better than we were before? Different but better. Stronger and healthier. Maybe if we can repair what’s hurting in our own souls, we’ll be kinder to others. As Maya Angelou wrote, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”  ~Cindy La Ferle


Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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