Back to normal?
A return to the way things were is a vain goal
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"Return to normalcy” was Warren G. Harding’s 1920 presidential campaign slogan. And there was a lot to return to normalcy from. We had just been through not only World War I but also the flu pandemic of 1918, which infected a third of the earth’s population and caused 675,000 deaths in the United States.
The thing is that if normalcy means a return to the way we were before, that never happens, and never can happen.
We think it will; and nostalgia insists that it will. But you can be sure that one by one those little telling differences will surface that remind us it’s a remade world. It is one of the more poignant details included in the Old Testament that our forefather Jacob, after an exhausting night of solitary wrestling with a mysterious Man until the break of day, rose up from there, gathered his things, and, according to Genesis:
“The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip” (32:31).
God seems not so interested in journeys back to normalcy when normalcy left aught to be desired.
The sun looked the same, the terrain looked the same, his staff and satchel bore the same outward appearance. But Jacob was a different man than he had been the day before.
We are the sum of our experiences, and there is an after and before for each of us, the trials in between being the series of ushers to an ever-changing plane.
A chiropractor once told me in his office: “You know those high-school sports injuries you thought you got over? Well, you didn’t. Your body remembers.”
There is a young man I know who left the love of his youth, though they had a baby together, and I always hoped that they would reunite. As time went by, and he and she both gave themselves to many others, I knew it could never work. Any hope of normalcy had been murdered with a thousand No U-turns.
God Himself forbids it as a thing utterly distasteful, in an ancient law proscribing the return to matrimony of a man who has divorced his wife, who then remarries, only to be bereft again (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Too much water over the dam. No one may step in the same stream twice.
C.S. Lewis, in his pain, would fain have returned to the normalcy of premarital solitary walks through glen and tobacco pipes raised round the hearth in pubs with male friends after the death of his dear wife. There were times when he could nearly talk himself into the thought that the interlude of marriage with the woman he calls “H” was a parenthesis of no lasting import:
“There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called ‘resources.’ People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice, but it seems for a while to be making out a good case” (A Grief Observed).
The Apostle Peter vainly entertained the notion of return to normalcy after his Teacher of three years abruptly ended their sweet vagabonding times together. Says the simple Simon to his fellow fishermen: “I’m going fishing.” And as if to underscore the point we are here making that return to normalcy is a fool’s dream, the denouement relates, “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3).
God seems not so interested in journeys back to normalcy when normalcy left aught to be desired. The shaking of the Church upon the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira left a residue of fear of God, which was indeed the goal (Acts 5:11). My mother had a stroke in 2012, and went from bright and witty mocker to a child accepting Christ.
Whatever good we’ve learned in these last several months, let us keep and not discard it, even if we walk off with a limp.
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