Last March, we celebrated my husband’s birthday at a Patti Smith concert. A week later the lockdown happened. I often look at photos from that night, wondering who in the audience might have had Covid, who might have died in the weeks or months that followed, who probably lost a loved one. This seems normal, looking to the past for answers about the present and the future, trying to find clues about the collective loss of 2020.

This year, for his birthday, my husband I had our first meal out in a year, celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day at a busy restaurant. The mood was festive, the placed packed. It felt wonderful to be in public again, see other people, take part in society and company and community. To get dressed up and carry that expensive designer bag. We had a big slice of coconut cream cake for dessert after a rich meal of ravioli and meatballs. Two glasses of wine with dinner. This felt normal too, this wanting what we had before. To be full and happy and a little buzzed.

I hugged a colleague yesterday, someone who was talking about how hard work is and how some days every moment is difficult. Before she could go on, I simply reached out and embraced her. “That’s not my way of shutting you down,” I told her. “I just wanted to make you feel better.”

A hug. So normal.

All this is right. We need to be looking for answers, doing something fun, feeling safe enough to hug. We need to move on. But in doing so, we also risk pretending none of this happened, as if all that’s required is to remove the battered plywood from our collective glass-fronted stores. Hey, that’s us, ready for business. I need a new couch, show me the fabric options!

I worry about what I see in my colleagues eyes, the loss and the fatigue and the anger. My friends have lost loved ones. Their lives are not normal. I know the pressure to go back to how things were — whether it’s our productivity or our pleasure — is normal, just as I know that denial is a survival mechanism we’ll always employ.

This is how life works. When the hard part is over, all we want is what’s normal.

I’m hoping to find a different path forward, a way to eat coconut cream cake and order a new couch but also recognize what we’ve lost, how hard this has been. The grief and the hurt and the life-changing events we all know happened. I want us to see this in each other, and acknowledge that yes, even if this is harder, it’s also normal.

Writer, mother, knitter, nurse — not necessarily in that order.

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