Holly Richardson: Zucchini, weeds and a new normal

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People wear masks in downtown Salt Lake City on Monday, August 10, 2020, as Utah’s new coronavirus cases drops below 300 for the first time since early June.

This morning, I spent two and a half hours in the garden, mostly pulling the very overgrown weeds but also harvesting zucchini and tomatoes. I now have 18 good-sized zucchini on my counter from this morning’s pickings, added to the dozen picked three days ago and the gigantic ones we fed to the chickens.

It struck me that this is normal. Like pre-pandemic normal. Zucchini and weeds growing prolifically is just ... normal. And I was grateful.

I also started to think about the “new normal” that we are headed into, the kind of normalization that comes after big upheaval, and yes, loss and grief. I’ve been down that road numerous times. Feeling knocked off kilter, or even driven to your knees by life is ... normal.

Wanting equilibrium after upheaval, to go back the way things were “before” is also normal. We see it in folks who want school and sports and concerts and church to “go back to normal,” meaning the way they were before COVID-19 killed 167,000 Americans. We see the desire to return to “normal” in families who want life to “go back” to the way it was before a death, or a marriage, or a mission or the birth of a baby that changed family dynamics. We see it in the desire to “go back” to life before a stressful job or over-loaded school schedule or moving to a new house.

The loss of “normal” can happen after happy events or sad ones. I have a daughter whose favorite house has always been the one we moved out of, not the current one. She told me recently that if we ever move from our current home, one where she no longer lives, by the way, she’s quite sure this one will be her favorite.

When uncertainty, disruption, loss and life’s vicissitudes knock us about and upend normal, we are often left flailing. “Normal” represents comfort, safety and routine. Normal can be planned for, scheduled and put on a calendar. Normal can become habits that no longer require thought and is “just is the way life is.” It’s normal to cling to our version of “normal.” When my second child was born with disabilities, people told me I must be a special parent to have a special child. “I don’t want to be special,” I wailed. “I want to be normal!”

So here we are, five months into a pandemic that has turned the world upside down and we just want life to be normal, don’t we? (Whatever that means.)

How do we regain that sense of normalcy? We can’t turn back the clock or pretend the virus, the cancer diagnosis, the break-up (fill-in-the-blank) doesn’t exist. We can grieve what we’ve lost, even for “good” reasons and then we move into the new normal. We’re resilient like that.

Creating new routines for ourselves helps us regain that equilibrium we crave. At the same time, being flexible — very flexible — in our expectations will help us adapt. We need to give up on a specific timeline for events to unfold. “By such-and-such a date, things will be back to normal.” That’s a set-up for disappointment and frustration.

We can be creative in finding new and different ways to connect with others and who knows — maybe they’ll even turn out to be better ways! As a broader community, we are finding new and different ways to educate and to learn, new and different ways to work, new and different ways to hold meetings and new and different ways to worship. Different doesn’t necessarily mean “bad” — it’s just different.

A new normal also doesn’t mean we abandon everything from before. There are many things that are still the same. Like the resilience and proliferance of zucchini and weeds.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.