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We’re at a crossroads. It’s all very Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway.

Many of us find this to be true on a personal level, but it’s undoubtedly true for our country. We are dangerously distracted. Politics is the magician’s hat waving to a spot off-stage while the table right in front of us slides apart.

Yep. The President got COVID. Or maybe he didn’t. Yep. Joe Biden’s son had a substance use problem. Just like millions of other Americans. It’s true. We have major problems in this country. And we can put down our phones and turn off our TVs if we really want to see them.

Let’s not be distracted by the top hat and then act like we couldn’t possibly have seen how it all happened.

Remember when the world was responding in the hours and days right after September 11th? There was a global outpouring of support and love for us, the attacked Americans. In that moment it didn’t matter that we had been the attacker on so many other occasions in our country’s relatively short history. We had the world in our hands. We and the fate of our nation were being held tenderly in hearts across the world.

And then “shock and awe.”

When the inevitable announcement of retaliation came I heaved a defeated, embarrassed, deeply regretful sigh. Another missed opportunity. Normal had been disrupted. There were choices, but we were too proud to consider them. Too upset. Too unable to imagine healing our wounds with anything but what had always been normal. We had to show “strength” in our tiny and limited understanding of the word.

We’re America, godammit.

Our opportunity to model a new normal, to demonstrate a new, sustainable definition of strength, to set the entire world on a wholly different path, was gone in an instant. We didn’t even notice it. Because that’s not what we do. Humans, that is. We don’t notice. We react. We move and we move fast so we can skip the feeling part.

“Of course,” we said. “What else could we have done?,” we defended.

I wonder.

“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal,” is one of the many mottos of 2020. I recommend a serious edit to this sentiment.

Earlier this year, Sonya Rene Taylor reminded us, that before COVID, “normal” was “greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.” This observation should make us feel things. And those feelings should spur action or, dare I say, inaction.

Those us who nod in indignant agreement, offering our “Amen!” and “Preach!”, need to look close to home. What are we doing to make what was normal abnormal? Are we keeping each other honest? Holding each other up when we find ourselves searching, in our very human and neurotypical way, for comfort and all of the ways that lead us back to the terrible, depleting old?

Those of us who feel attacked by her observations and decide that Sonya Renee Taylor is a crazy, angry, negative Black woman, let’s grab a pocket mirror and look into it for a minute or almost 9.

None of us are exempt. We got here together.

And none of us is powerless to shape what normal will be.

Let’s build up our chops for discomfort and do some hardcore remodeling. Let’s break systems as we create communities. Let’s stop climbing the ladder that is the system of power and hierarchy. Let’s own it and get to work healing our wounds.

Numbness. Pain. Sadness. Doubt. Emptiness. Hurt. These were the old normal. These are what led us to this place of fracture and rancor and mistrust of ourselves and each other.

In order for a new normal to sustain us it must be unrecognizable to any of us who lived in the “old normal.” It’s going to feel wrong for a while because we won’t know it yet, but each step we take will make meaningful connection more familiar. Each time we stop to feel and to choose something unlike the old normal but nourishing and different, we’ll feel more at home. We’ll look around and see others feeling uneasy in this creative process and we’ll know and feel in our bones that we are not alone. And we’ll keep going.

The old normal will come back unless we are diligent. There is a brush fire burning. Let’s tend each new, scorched piece of our reality in a way that makes it inhospitable to those sad, lonely, destructive ways we clung to “before.” As Sonya says, let us be the balm to our own self-inflicted wounds.