Should we be rushing to get back to ‘normal?’

As vaccines continue to roll out, I’m starting to notice a sense of urgency in people to return to life as it was before the pandemic. While I understand the excitement to see friends and family again, and to once again enjoy certain activities we’ve missed out on, I find myself wondering what the rush is to get back to “the way things were before.”

If there is anything this time has taught me, it is that there are certain things in life that hold less weight in the grand scheme of things. I suspect all of us in one way or another have asked ourselves similar questions: When it comes down to it, are those extra hours in the office really going to make you happier? Do we trade too much of our time for “success” or things we want to buy or think we need to be happy? Have we learned anything about ourselves and our lives from the suffering and loss of the pandemic?

Many national surveys suggest that the “new normal” will be more difficult and challenging— maybe not a world we readily want to deal with. At the same time, we hear that people are reluctant to return to the “old” normal. They don’t want the rush hour commutes and sitting in traffic just a mile away from home or work. They’d like to be able to work from home more often where possible and have time in their life for other things.

And we also know what people miss—the unmasked freedom of being with others, enjoying life without the anxiety of exposure; being able to gather with family and friends; to go back to church and other parish activities and live a purposeful life.

I was hopeful that experiencing a global pandemic would help people slow down and take stock of the things that are really important, and that it would spark an overall shift in what we value. I, for one, have learned so much about what those things are, and I hope it has changed the way I approach many things in my life.

I don’t think we should forget the more than 500,000 lives lost in our country alone, and many are still grieving even as those of us who went relatively unscathed are trying to recover what we lost and to move on.

While we’ve been inspired by the heroism of so many people during the pandemic, we’ve also been reminded that some lives have been worth more than others—that many of the poor and most vulnerable were far less healthy and did not have easy access to care. So we learn that a person’s value should not be based in her or his job, but as Christians we know that God tells us we are valuable in and of ourselves. Matthew 10:31 says, “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” God sees our inherent value, outside of what we do to make a living, can we do the same for ourselves and others?

In our rush to get back to life as we knew it, I don’t want us to forget what happened here. I don’t want us to forget these 500,000+ people who no longer get to live their lives. How can we honor them in the way we live our lives moving forward?

I hope the pandemic has helped people realize that the things that set our souls on fire are the pursuits that make life worth living. As Matthew 6:34 says, “Tomorrow will take care of itself.” God assures us of this. Can we trust Him and begin to live our lives the way He intended them for us?

Having the knowledge we do now of how the things of true importance can be taken from us so quickly, can we really go back to the way things were before? In his Pastoral Exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano offers us an answer. He urges us to find courage and strength in God’s love for us and to joyfully share it with others.

In his wise words, we realize that the way of the Gospel and the ways of the world are not one and the same. And faith gives us a fullness that is not found anywhere else. I guess the challenge is to remember what happened here and what we learned during this time. Let us be intentional about how we move forward, as a testament to the lives that were lost.