As media and everyday rhetoric in the so-called West continues to focus on ‘returns to normal’ I’ve found myself more reflective about what ‘normal’ means, and who is and has been excluded from it. I think about the bodies whose blood feeds a small sector of the world’s concept of normal – from access to goods and vacation spots to which bodies need to be heavily policed for a very small segment of the world to feel safe and free.
I am thinking of who is left out when a global pandemic that has kept me from seeing my immediate family in sixteen months, that most certainly means that the last time I saw certain other friends and family members is likely the last time I will see them though we could not have known this, is declared “over” because a certain part of the world has vaccines. I’m thinking about vaccine access and how the profits of billionaires and corporations have been given preference over people, and for whom the pandemic will be extended and worsened because of that callousness.
I am thinking about borders, and who gets to take their ability to cross them for granted. I am thinking about how on paper I should be able to take border crossing for granted but reality and the past four years of rhetoric around immigration has taught me differently. I’m thinking of what it would be like to be able to travel without exit strategies, without contingency plans, without always thinking six months in advance.
I think about friends who still bear the weight and fear of the last year, whose lives were made easier by accessibility measures and the lack of need to travel or be physically present in places to be part of things, and how in the push to reclaim normal, they are now back to being excluded.
I think about people who were able to bear their jobs better, despite the pandemic, because they did not have to put their bodies in front of their coworkers. I think about people who have been broken by their jobs because others still demanded to be served in certain ways, and demanded that their bodies were put on the line for customers’ senses of normalcy and entitlement.
I think about how all the tools were right there; all the choices were right there to build back a better world. To choose to make people and their needs the focus of governing rather than corporate profits, to reshape modes of life into gentler patterns. I think of every time those choices were let go of in favor of egos and profit and self-centered patterns of thinking.
I think about sacrifice as a word, how often it is said by people who very clearly do not know its meaning. I think about sacrifice as an action and a promise to the future, and the legacy of the sacrifices of others, usually more marginalized than me, that is the only reason I am enfranchised with the freedoms I have today. I think about the communities that have given so much, that still fight for all, even as after a year indoors certain people have only found more vitriol towards that which is different to them, and scares them.
I think about fatigue, and exhaustion, and coping. I think about who is allowed to express those things in public. I think about all the people I know, coping, bearing not only the strain of a global pandemic but a world that does not want them to exist as they are.
I think about the people who are desperate to turn back the clock to times that have never existed, other than in their fantasies of their place in the passing of the universe. I think about how isolating it must be to have all the answers, to have made yourself afraid of change and new ideas.
I think people who will never get the credit for the work they have done to build communities, to protect communities this past year, and before. I think about the people for whom “normal” was never good enough. I think about the people for whom “normal” has always meant their lives stolen, their land stolen, their resources stolen, their children stolen, their culture stolen. And then put on display for people who can pay, who can even in the midst of a pandemic decide to travel to islands and resorts because they just need a break, without thinking about the ramification of their actions on others. I think about those who insist that just because something has been kept open, that it should be used, instead of thinking more broadly about why and how and what motivates decisions.
I think about people who think intentions are ethics. I think about people who don’t have to think in worst case scenarios, who are allowed to feel comfortable in the bodies they inhabit. I think about who gets second chances, and third, and fourth, and fiftieth chances, and who is never allowed to fail much less show weakness or signs of incompetence.
I think about what it means when we as adults say the kids are alright, point to the strength and conviction of youth and absolve ourselves of responsibilities for why they have no choice but to be strong. I think about how, this too, is a stolen childhood. I think about whose childhoods are stolen.
I think about whose safety, whose grief, whose feelings are given preference and airspace. I think about forests being chopped down for funeral pyres.
I’m thinking about who feels entitled to speak over people about the issues their people face. I’m thinking about people who think that their google searches are the same as practical and academic experience and expertise, and who is ultimately given space to speak.
I’m thinking about the audacity of never having to consider positionality before carefully folding thoughts into words and letting them slip past lips. I’m thinking about the audacity of considering oneself the universal, and who is allowed to do this. I think about who has the right to be fragile, to be less than perfect, to crack at any point. I think about what counts as stress, or duress, or pain, and how often its legitimacy is decided by those outside the body experiencing it. I think about what it would be like to consider my mind without the implications of the body it is attached to. I think about what it would be like to be embodied of legitimacy.
I think about what it would be like to not be aware of my body also standing in for so many other bodies. I think about the freedom of not being aware of being the only in a space, and what that does for what I might do or say. I think about how my normal is not the normal that is being cried out for. My old normal is so much more restricted; my new normal is still so much more free than others. I don’t want to think about normalcy anymore.