Defining My New Normal

By Shyama Parui

Grab key. Start car. Go! It used to be easy to accomplish simple goals like filling gas in the car, grabbing a bite to eat, and buying bug spray to protect from mosquitoes. These actions did not require a complex decision tree or advance planning. Now, the average person wears the hat of a project manager who must meticulously plan every move, its predecessors, contingencies, dependencies, and consequences all within the carefully allotted timeframe for a trip to the nearest store. If it is any consolation, such a tedious implementation might end midnight cravings for a bag of chips or ice cream.

By the time I had realized the need for masks and gloves, they were hard to find in the market, delaying our grocery shopping expedition. Devoid of sewing skills, I welcomed the impetus to learn. It was particularly rewarding when it also offered the opportunity to donate face masks to frontline workers. Masks and other face coverings will probably become an important, if not glamorous accessory for a while. Advertisements for “trendy" and personalized face masks are making an appearance on social media. If you ask me, some of those masks belonged to Halloween costume sets, but hey to each his own. Speaking of Halloween, the tradition of going door to door for trick or treating in 2020 sounds like a frightening virus spreading exercise. I wonder how it will be observed this year along with other festivals.

My family in India may not get together for Raksha bandhan or visit a temple fearing that worst is still to come. Our local Bengali association is in a quandary about Durga Puja, which is a major celebration involving large gatherings, exchanging mishti (sweets) and going overboard with sindoor to color everyone in sight.

The desire to honor a family member's birthday has generated a wave of new ideas like “drive-by visits," “honk if you want to say Happy Birthday" and of course Zoom parties. The fundamental ingredients are love and affection, fancy ballrooms are optional. This week, I am scratching my head trying to figure out how to make my children's birthdays a little special which is important too as the lockdown has ensured their fair share of mundane, uneventful days.

Living through the pandemic has forced us to redefine and reprioritize. In my house, the definition of “clean" has changed drastically. My hand washing is bordering on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I spend more time rinsing and wiping the food items purchased than I did shopping for them. With passing days, our past associations are slowly being eroded. Gossiping with neighbors just across the fence provided entertainment, hearing a coworker cough was reason to check on them, and a hug from a friend was always comforting. Now, these actions are perceived threats to our well-being with the potential to set off a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Boredom and disappointment can kindle creativity

Fueled by care, concern and confusion, our family's challenge for June is to rescue ourselves from the “Summer of Boredom" by rethinking how, when, where, and most importantly what will we do until schools reopen. Our list of “Can't Do" is much longer than “Can Do". Since boredom and disappointment are also known to kindle creativity, I am confident that we will survive. Once North Carolina's schools begin the academic year on August 17, it could also be the start of inventive teaching methods that balance social distance and proximity.

My optimistic conviction arises from personal experiences as an immigrant from India to the US, transitioning from the familiar to the foreign. When my parents moved from West Bengal to Maharashtra in the 1950s, their relocation was similar in scope and change to moving internationally. They had to learn Hindi and Marathi quickly, live in smaller homes and socialize with neighbors who frowned on the consumption of “non-veg" food. My mother recalls taking great pains to mask the smell of fried ilish (hilsa fish) and dumping milk on the wok when an over friendly lady from the same floor arrived unexpectedly.

Anyone who has crossed a major milestone such as becoming an adult with responsibilities, a spouse or parent will know that it comes with significant changes in “how I will spend my day" or “what do I care about the most." And more often than not, the goal is not to go back to the way things used to be. We learn to adapt and mature because of the friction and shuffling of needs.

For families who were robbed of lives and livelihood, the devastation from the coronavirus is unthinkable. Our veil of safety has been pulled off and the confidence in our economy has drowned. Our collective experiences from today beg us to reinspect and reconfigure our notions of fairness as we define tomorrow's normal. A novel disease brought the world to its knees and threw us off course. Now, as we rise and limp forward perhaps, we can pave a new path towards a better future for all.


Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: