I don’t want things to return to normal at the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sure, we’d all like to leave quarantine and go back to work (if we still have jobs). Of course, we’d like to be able to go out to dinner or celebrate a special occasion with friends.
And we’d really like to stop worrying about whether our vulnerable family members are going to get sick and die alone in an ICU without even so much as a funeral.
But there’s a lot we should refuse to let return to normal.
The majority of our businesses have been shuttered for weeks on end, and the only places resolutely open for business are our neighborhood grocery stores and pharmacies and take-out restaurants.
Cashiers, cooks and delivery drivers working for minimum wage put their health at risk every day, with far too many working at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Since 2012, these workers have engaged in the “Fight for $15” to raise the minimum wage to a modestly livable one.
I don’t want to go back to any “normal” where a livable minimum wage is seen as an unintelligible demand when we’ve all depended on the dedication of our neighbors working underpaying jobs to get us through this crisis.
After 10 million people have filed for unemployment, I don’t want to go back to a sense of normalcy in which a person’s access to healthcare is tied to their employment status.
Amid a pandemic, we’ve learned all of our health is dependent on the health of every other. Health care should not be considered a privilege, or even simply a right.
Affordable, high-quality health care is an essential component for our mutual survival and healthy flourishing.
Doctors and nurses and hospital administrators have been telling us the healthcare system of one of the wealthiest countries in the world is unprepared and ill equipped to care for the needs of the sick, lacking the most basic supplies of personal protective equipment to keep medical staff healthy.
So, what is the “normal” we wish to return to in our healthcare system?
But what might we learn from this unwelcomed pain that will help us reimagine how we mourn our dead and celebrate their lives and return them to the earth?
Can the ubiquity of death we experience in this time help us open conversations about end-of-life care, advance directives and living wills with our loved ones, rather than simply returning to the “normalcy” of our death-talk taboo?
Going back to the life we once thought of as “normal” will mean that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will lift its temporary freeze on routine deportations.
It will begin targeting our undocumented congregants and friends and neighbors once again, pulling them from their homes, corralling them into cages at the border and, in many cases, sending them back into situations of violence and precarity.
This isn’t a “normal” I want to go back to.
Terry Tempest Williams writes she was haunted for years by a comment made to her by South African anti-apartheid activist and artist Breyten Breytenbach who said to her, “You Americans, you’ve mastered the art of living with the unacceptable.”
I hope this time we’re living through will not be a liminal space in which we hold “normalcy” in abeyance only to return unhesitatingly to our uncritical acceptance of an unacceptable status quo.
I hope at the end of this, we’ll find a whole host of folks coming out of their quarantine who are too restless ever to let things return to normal.
I hope in this period of pandemic we’ve learned something about our relationship to one another and to the larger web of life, including the infinitesimally small members of that web like a virus that will become a part of us whether we want it to or not.
I hope in a matter of months, we will all come out of our houses and into the streets, insisting we will never go back to normal after this.
Cody J. Sanders, Ph.D., is pastor to Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, MA, and American Baptist Chaplain to Harvard University. His books include “A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth” and “Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church.”