All of our lives have been upended by COVID-19. For those of who are home and barely go out, there’s this feeling of being imprisoned in our own homes. Should we need to go out and grab something outside of home, we have to wear face masks to protect us and others. For those who are considered essential workers, the thought of going to work is freeing but equally fearful because you have no idea who it is that you will encounter, and whether or not that person is infected. We have been subjected to a different kind of life, one that we haven’t lived before, never thought we would ever live, and never hope to live again - should we eventually return to live our normal lives.
Returning to live normal lives has been the hope we express to ourselves, and to others. There’s never a day when we don’t hear or talk about our hope to have our lives return to normal - which is fantastic. But the idea of a return to normal lives may be subjective and relative, because the normalcy that we crave for, or expect, may mean different things to different people.
For some, the normalcy simply means being able to do the things they used to do before the pandemic. For some, the normalcy means being able to pursue their careers and live life like they used to. For some, the normalcy means being able to shop, travel, go out, run, walk, take kids to school, and simply approach life as they used to, before the pandemic. For some, the normalcy would mean having to pick their lives back up after the devastation of this crisis. For some, the normalcy would mean having to grieve for a loved one with whom they didn't get the chance to spend their last days. For some, the normalcy would mean overcoming the toll of isolation and loss - on that note, there’s a story of a man in Massachusetts who could no longer stand being separated from his wife that they had him visit her in a bucket truck.
Amidst these cravings for normalcy are deeper questions, the kind which should cause us to re-evaluate how normal our lives need to be. I really do not think we can return to live as we had without asking ourselves how we can live better in the future than we had in the past. How can we be better angels today, and in the future, than we were in the past? How can we live a kind of future in which questioning is part of our narrative, the sort of questioning that leads us into advocating for the necessary change in our present arrangement?
We are well aware of some of the systemic inequities in our society, especially among people of color, the poor, and those whom we have come to recognize as being on the margins of our society. They have certainly been the hardest hit. Quite apart from the disproportionate death toll - which may be attributed to a host of different factors, of which access to primary health care is critical - I fear for the many for whom the pandemic has worsened an already precarious living condition. I fear for the many who may be feeling the brunt of these consequences of inequalities. I fear for the many who have lost income they may never recover, thus having a multiplying effect on them, and on their families. I fear for all for whom the checks from the government wouldn’t be enough to meet their needs. I fear for all for whom the trauma of this pandemic may last for a very long, long time. I fear….
There’s a story of a mother who would always cut the ends of her carrots before she put them in a pot. The daughter always watched her mother cut both ends of the carrots before she put them in, and over the years she thought about asking her mother why she did so. Something always seemed to get in her way every time she wanted to ask about the ends of the carrots, but on this particular day nothing got in the way.
She went ahead and asked her mother: “Mom, why do you cut the ends of the carrots before you put them in the pot?” The mother appeared perplexed at this strange question.
“I saw Grandma do it, so that’s why I do it,” responded the perplexed mother.
“Well, did you ask Grandma why she did that?” asked the girl.
Fortunately for both of them, Grandma was visiting and so the mother shot back, “She’s right there in her room; you may want to go and ask why she did that.”
So the girl ran to her grandmother’s room and narrated her story: “Grandma,” she said, “Mother always cuts the two ends of the carrots before she puts them in a pot. I asked her why she did that. She said that she saw you do it, and that’s why she does. I asked her if she ever asked you why you had, but she said no, and so now I ask you. Why did you cut both ends of the carrot before you put them in the pot?”
The grandmother, who grew up during the Depression, was as perplexed as her daughter had been earlier, and sought to explain why.
"Well, I used to have a smaller pot, and the carrots didn’t fit in it when whole, and so whenever I am cooking carrots, which was often, I would cut both ends just so the carrots would fit into the pot.”
The girl responded: “But did mom ever ask why you did that?”
“No,” the grandmother replied.
The girl then screamed, “So why is mom doing the exact same thing when she has a bigger pot??”
“I don’t know why,” said the grandmother. “You'll have to ask her.”
Without knowing why, her mother cut both ends of her carrots before putting them in a pot - even though she had a bigger pot which could fit her carrots. If she had asked her mother, like her daughter asked her, she would’ve known why her mother did so.
At this most perilous time, this time when we are all desirous about returning to our normal lives, a critical part of making our future, normal life incredibly meaningful could include questioning our present arrangement. Failure to do so would mean we haven’t learned much from this experience, after all. To return to life as it was before our confinement would mean that we were satisfied with the status quo. Each situation in life, as good or evil as it may be, offers us the grace to learn about readjusting our lives and our purpose.
To return to our old normal lives without asking questions on how to better adjust for a new normal would mean neglecting to ask why mom cuts the carrots at both ends before she puts them in a pot.
The Easter story is about the glory of a human being fully alive. And to be alive in that glory of being human is to look at each other differently, and with the hope of living differently, for we do have a bigger pot for our carrots.