I’m tidying up the waiting room and my gaze falls upon the little activity center and stuffed animals that have been abandoned in the corner.
I remember a time last year when a client had an appointment but couldn’t find a babysitter, so I sat in that room with her little boy and we watched cartoons and colored and he moved the wooden beads back and forth on the swirling metal bars. He was shy and curious. That seems like a lifetime ago.
I suddenly feel an overwhelming wave of grief. People used to come here, I think. It’s too much. I have to sit down in my office and breathe and release a few tears, because the weight of what’s been happening has finally hit me. It feels remarkably heavy.
People used to come here, and I got to say hello. I got to learn names and write appointment cards and offer consoling smiles when clients would leave, puffy-eyed and ready for a new week. Volunteers would come and go and we would fold brochures and make idle chit-chat and there was life here. Now there’s just a small handful of us confined to our offices, interacting sporadically. Life, but stale and still.
I used to talk to people in stores and hug my friends. I used to hold the hand of the victim I was advocating for as she bravely underwent a medical exam. I used to make plans for the following week or month or year, knowing that things would be certain and stable. I feel the loss of all these things and more, a grieving process for each surety.
Over 100,000 people in the US have died and countless more are dying everyday, an overwhelming percentage of them poor people and people of color. I see many that are carrying on like the world is suddenly safe again, and those are the people whose safety was never really threatened: the able and healthy, the privileged, the beneficiaries of a social contract that only they got to read and sign. For those whom the world has always been dangerous, there is no return to “normal”, because “normal” was part of the problem to begin with. Those who are threatened most are being gaslit by a society at large. Those who are not threatened feel attacked because they’re not the priority. But they’ve always been the priority, and stand to lose very little, if anything, if the deep-rooted issues that pervade are dealt with. But somehow they see it as losing everything.
As a white, able-bodied, cisgender, queer woman, I often straddle the line between “us” and “them.” There are many ways in which I am privileged, and some in which I am oppressed. I know that I am not free until we are all free, which is why I do not and will not stomp on anyone else’s right to live. I may miss the “normalcy” that I had the privilege of just a few short months ago, but that normalcy rested on the backs of people who have been institutionally cheated from a safe normal of their own. So I don’t want it back. I want a new normal that benefits and is safe for everyone, and I have the power to help make it happen. With privilege comes responsibility that cannot and should not be taken lightly.
Sometimes I wake up and it takes me a few minutes to remember everything. For a small handful of blissful moments, the world has not been ravaged by a novel virus, the lives of Black men and women have not been lost at the hands of those sworn to protect them, and we have leadership that values all human life over economic capital, and behaves as such. I’ll get to go to the store and crack jokes with my aislemates, and I’ll get to comfort a client whose life has been upended and is getting a second chance. I’ll crowd into a booth at a bar and share a basket of fries and a few drinks with my friends, and we’ll get to hug goodbye. I’ll show someone’s child how to move wooden beads along swirling metal bars, soften the world for them so they get a glimpse of understanding that it isn’t all violent.
Then reality hits.
This is where we are, in this twilight zone of an era. It’s surreal. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not over. We’re experiencing it together, as a whole, and that is where we should be drawing our strength. A society divided is a society vulnerable to fracture, but I think we’ve seen plenty of evidence of that already. I just wonder how many more deaths, jobs lost, lives turned upside-down it’ll take before those who have been fortunate enough to turn a blind eye start looking at the bigger picture and realize that the burden of the future rests on us. One day we’ll be a history lesson, and I want with every fiber of my being to salvage what we can and turn it into a good one. I dream and I hope and I pray. That it’s possible, and that it’s not too late. I strive to do what I can daily — educating and learning and donating and listening — because enough is enough. It’s time for a new normal.
Learn more and help out:
Campaign Zero: https://www.joincampaignzero.org/
Black Lives Matter: https://www.blacklivesmatter.com/
List of ways you can help out during the pandemic: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/21/how-you-can-help-during-coronavirus/?arc404=true