Waiting for “Normal” to Return

Why “now” is so different

Now is different. The world that we grew up in is gone, and it’s not coming back. It disappeared before our eyes. While we were shopping for the weekly groceries, putting meals on the table for our families, and caring for our aging parents, the familiar world we’ve known and trusted disappeared. The problem is that no one told us this was happening. No one told us that our lives were being changed forever.

There was no announcement in the headlines of The Wall Street Journal or USA Today. There was no media special on the cable channels, no investigative report on the nightly news, and no exposé on a glossy magazine cover to catch our attention at an airport newsstand. Because the world we knew no longer exists, and its disappearance has never been widely acknowledged in mainstream thinking, we’ve never had the opportunity to acknowledge the greatest shift in our lives, impacting the greatest number of people in the history of the world! We’ve never had the chance to say good-bye to the things that are gone and mourn their passing.

We saw evidence of our world vanishing as the mom-and-pop shops that used to line the streets of our small communities gave way the big-box stores that drove them out of business. The family-owned farms that we used to rely upon for our eggs and milk every week have become a rare sight even in the rural areas of America. The neighborhood shops that we counted on to fix everything from the holes in our shoes and our tires, to the lawnmowers that trimmed the grass we used to grow in front of the homes that we used to own are becoming memories of another time.

An entire way of life has vanished, and it happened so fast that many people still don’t know it’s gone. Because they don’t, they can’t know that it’s never coming back. They don’t realize that we’re in a vulnerable world of transition, and for now, a time of extremes.

This is where the problem begins. Because they don’t know the shift has happened, they’re still waiting for the world of the past to return. They’re waiting for life to get back to “normal.” Consciously for some, unconsciously for others, they’re clinging to an idea of the world that used to be, to the way things used to work, and to where they fit into that world.

Many people have put their lives on hold until that familiar world returns. They’ve put off making big decisions, like when to get married, when to have children, and when to look for new a new job in a new industry to replace the one that no longer exists. They’ve put these things off because they’re waiting for the world to settle down and get back to normal. While they’re waiting, they’re missing the best part of life: life itself!

Get Back to Normal

I remember a conversation I had a few years ago that beautifully illustrates what I mean by waiting for life to “get back to normal.” I was talking to a gas-station attendant in a small mountain town about the weak economy and how people in the area were coping.

“How are things in this part of the world?” I asked. “Has business been good here?”

“Nothing’s been the same here since the mine closed,” she began. “People were making good money. They had good jobs, good benefits, and job security. At least, they thought they had job security. Then everything changed. Everything just went to hell. It’s always been a mixed bag around here with the mine. When it’s open, things are great. When it closes, it’s pure hell and people go through hell. A few years ago the price of the ore dropped so low that the mine had to close, and just like that there were hundreds of people with no jobs.”

“That’s got to be tough,” I replied. “How much of the town works in the mine?”

“When it’s open, it’s the biggest employer in the county,” she explained. “In the good times, they ran 24/7, using around 600 people to cover three shifts up there.”

“So what’s everyone doing now?” I asked. “How are they making a living?”

“Oh, they’re around,” she said. “They’re doing whatever they can to get by. Some of the guys are mechanics working on cars by the gas station down the road. Some are cutting winter firewood for locals or baling hay. They’re doing just about whatever they can to get by until the mine reopens.”

“How do you know the mine will reopen?” I asked. “How long’s it been since it closed down?”

“It closed five years and two months ago,” she said. “There’s a skeleton crew working there now to keep things moving. We keep hearing rumors that it’s starting up again, but nobody knows for sure. All we can do is hope.”

Driving back to the main road, I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels between what the woman behind the counter had just shared about her small community and what’s happening on a bigger scale in the world at large. Perhaps more important, I’d experienced firsthand the way in which people often deal with the kind of change that tears at the fabric of their security and their lives.

In the case of the mines, they were closed because the world changed. The ore that the livelihoods of those townspeople once depended upon is now being mined in China for a cheaper price. That change is one facet of an even larger shift in the balance of global resources. For the mining community, it’s a shift in favor of another economy located in another country.

The point here is that people who are reluctant to release the security of doing what’s familiar to them are missing the opportunity to create even greater security in the new world that’s emerging.