We had a family gathering this past month, not a big reunion, just a post-summer, pre-Christmas excuse to reconnect. It was mostly our kids and their families and then a sister and nieces from my wife's side of the clan. We had a good time with lots of funny chatter and all sorts of good food and people asking about my new knee and we even had a couple of wee shavers scrambling around and yelling and then crying and then yelling again. Phone photos were passed around and there was lots of joking. Just an average family gathering. Most importantly, there will be no international headlines about how a partying family was wiped out by a missile from Israel or Hamas or Russia, nor – closer to home – no local headlines about how a family party ended early in the morning when a disgruntled family member went out to his car and got a gun and came back inside and started shooting everyone. What confounds me most of all here is that I found a somewhat low-key get-together write-worthy, as though such a thing were truly out of the ordinary.
We recently had the Pumpkinfest Parade in our neighboring town – a greatly fun event we used to see all the time when we lived a half-block from the parade route. Yet it was a little over a year ago that the Highland Park Fourth of July parade was interrupted by a young man with an AR-15 with disastrous results. No shootings at the Pumpkin Parade and the only incident – earlier – was a choking child being saved by a retired police officer. Again – ordinary, normal, nice.
So it's hard to know the boundaries of what is normal these days. Huge chunks of normal do go on, but it seems as though all we hear about from our information sources is trauma and tragedy. We assume, thus, that the world is going to hell, or at least it's going to turn into hell if we don't do something about climate change or the Republigun Party.
Here's some normal –
Our city provides vacuum trucks that go around and suck up everyone's leaves from the curbside
Our local football team continued its mediocre ways this season, lamentable and perhaps predictable but not at all tragic
Our autumn hasn't been terribly cold so the leaves took a long time to fall, frustrating those who like to get things cleaned up early
In late September I saw my first Christmas commercial on television. That's pretty normal, as are the Thanksgiving Black Friday commercials in August
Normal, if hugely annoying, is the constant presence of the Former Occupant of the White House in the media
Normal, following the first snowfall, are the news clips telling drivers to drive carefully (Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface), and warning them that overexertion in snow shoveling can lead to a heart attack
It's that time of the year where a walk outside is totally pleasant – the air brisk and clean and suffused with the slight odor of skunks on the move
I finally moved our pumpkin from its high place on the porch planter down to a step so that the squirrels can start eating it, which they will
My wife and I recently got our flu shots and then followed that up with the latest Covid-19 booster – a new normal
I regularly get emails from companies telling me that my accounts are compromised and in danger of being closed – companies I've never had any dealings with
I think of all those things as little rip-rap on the shoreline of my life, bedrock keeping the shore solid as raging seas threaten to overwhelm whatever reason and rationality is still operating in the world. Rituals, routines, habits, and traditions do that, too. Holding fast to the normal also gives you both perspective and distance on what seems to be nothing but crazy countries doing crazy things and crazy people doing crazy things and the only danger occurs when you begin to think you're not in any of those cohorts.
Photoillustration by the author