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In mid-February 2020, the community room at the library was festooned in red and yellow for our Chinese New Year event. There were crafts like paper lanterns and koi kites, games like Majong and Chinese checkers, traditional lunar new year treats like sunflower seeds and dates. There was even a calligraphy set for the kids to practice with. It was one of our biggest and most successful library events, and the first of many fun activities we had planned.
I had no idea it would be our last in-person library event for over a year.
I remember chatting with some of the adults at the event who mentioned that there was a virus outbreak in China. I remember making sympathetic noises, but not really thinking too much of it. After all, it was in China, half a world away. What possible significance could that have for me, a library assistant living and working in a rural Pennsylvania town?
As we’ve seen since then, it ended up meaning a whole hell of a lot. Within a month of our Chinese New Year celebration, our library, along with significant portions of the country and the rest of the world, went into lockdown for two months. I’ve been back to work since June 2020 as our library system has slowly reopened in stages, going from curbside pickup only, to computer use by appointment, to limited browsing by appointment, until we finally returned to regular hours with no appointments. Masks are required. We quarantine returns for a week. The study rooms and community room are closed to the public. All of our programs are either take-home crafts or entirely virtual. And it looks like things will stay that way through this summer at the very least. Quite frankly, I’m expecting the rest of 2021 to be pretty much like 2020 was for our library unless something devastating happens.
2020 was the perfect storm of bad events, bad responses, bad choices. Everyone keeps talking about “going back to normal” but honestly I don’t know what “normal” is anymore. I don’t think “normal” is a thing that exists, except in the form of whatever the current status quo is. I don’t like this version of normal. It’s hurt a lot of people, and many more have been and are continuing to be hurt because others refuse to adapt. It’s scary and frustrating, and while I’ve had it much easier than many, that doesn’t mean it’s been a picnic. A very tired, selfish part of me almost wishes for another lockdown so I wouldn’t have to go anywhere for at least another two months. But considering how unresponsive our government has been with aid to the people who actually need it, that is a childish and irresponsible wish.
My current “normal” is a little better now than it was a few months ago. I’m reading books more, enjoying my candles, and cuddling with my kittens. Since the inauguration, I’m no longer having heart palpitations. But in other ways, my new normal is still very detrimental. Sleeping too much, eating too much, not exercising, not writing or playing video games, or doing anything else that gives pleasure or a sense of purpose. I’ve gained more weight than I care to think about, have no motivation to do anything, and probably should go back on antidepressants. I scrape myself through the week, rally my resources over the weekend, and do it all over again. I’m tired. My boss is tired. We’re all so very, very tired.
And I have a terrible feeling that this is all going to get worse before it gets better, especially with so many people unwilling to acknowledge that normality has to change for a while if we want things to improve. But I don’t really want to return to the old version of normal. This pandemic has shown a harsh light on so many things that are broken with our systems and and our society. Increased economic inequality, social injustices compounded by irresponsible journalism and political machinations, safety nets that are unresponsive, ill-equipped, or non-existent, the pressing need for healthcare reform, the advantages (and disadvantages) of telecommuting, and so many other things that have been covered by people far more informed than myself.
We shouldn’t go back to those broken systems, just because that was “normal.” That form of “normal” hid a multitude of sins and we would take a step backward as a society if we just “go back to the way things were.”
We’re humans. We form communities. We adapt and overcome. It’s what we do. Let’s do it again to improve the lives of everyone.