What Do We Mean When We Wish Things Were Normal?

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I’m sitting here “thinking on paper” — letting words flow from my head, through the keyboard, to the screen. I have a question. One I’ll bet you ask yourself once in a while.

I’m not satisfied with life. I keep grumbling to myself that I’d be happy if things would just get back to normal. Do you do that? I’ll bet you do. It’s not asking too much, is it?

What is “normal” anyway? As I sit typing this, I can look across the room and see the greatest treasure this planet ever produced — my beloved wife Lolly. There she is, God bless her, sound asleep in her recliner, eyes closed, a slight frown on her face, twitching now and then from the Parkinsonism from which she has suffered for eight years. 

Is that the “normal” I want? I don’t think so.

It’s 3:05 p.m. right now. In 30 minutes I’ll be waking Lolly for supper and she’ll become a bit more alert. Her eyes are unlikely to open, but she’ll show signs that she hears what I say. I’ll tell her what’s going to happen before lifting her into her wheelchair. If I don’t do that, I’ll see concern on her face. She won’t say anything though. She almost never does, and when she does I’m usually too dumb to understand it. 

Supper will be something she likes. It always is. That’s the least I can do. Today it will finish up with a piece of warm apple pie. It’ll be obvious she enjoys the pie because she’ll open wide for it. After supper I’ll roll her back here to the living room, get her comfortable, and put on one of her favorite films, always a musical. Evening will go by, bringing a second film, rarely seen but always heard.

Then, time for bed. Once comfortably settled, Lolly will be kissed and told how much she is loved — that happens a lot around here. We have a monitor beside the bed. She’ll be kissed again and told that if she makes the slightest sound I’ll be at her side. Later, I’ll come to bed and we’ll talk for a time. I’ll tell her how much I love her and how happy I am to be beside her. 

That’s my normal day, but I don’t think it’s what any of us mean when we say we wish things could get back to normal. So what does “normal” mean?

Being young again maybe? There’s a thought.

Was I happy when I was young? I worked for 50 cents an hour — when I could get it. I had maybe one or two pairs of pants, and perhaps three shirts to go with them. Shoes? Always just one pair, often run down at the heels and in need of replacement. 

Was that normal? Must have been, I guess.

Do I want it back? I don’t think so.

OK, what about my 20s? Surely they were normal. Or maybe even better than normal. I was 27 years old the evening I met Miss Loretta George and we fell in love at first sight. Oh, what a glorious evening that was! At 7:30 on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1959, I strolled up a flagstone walk and through the gates of Paradise. What a perfect day! And you know what made it perfect? We each knew that it was love at first sight. 

Imagine it. Caromed halfway around the world during the Cold War to an assignment where I was a small part of the U-2 Program that overflew the USSR to see what those doggone Ruskies were up to. And just a few days later ...

Hold it! That was a great night, the best that ever was, but those were not great times, I’m afraid. Afraid. Yes that’s the word. We were afraid. All the time, deep down afraid, down where you look at your wife and kids and realize that there is nothing — nothing! — you can do to save them if ... 

I can remember Lolly and I looking out the picture window of our small house in Utah a couple of years after that first perfect evening. Ten miles away, spread out at the bottom of a rolling green slope, stretched Salt Lake and the long dark shape of Antelope Island mirrored in the sunset. We were holding hands, thinking of words just uttered by President Kennedy, frightening words telling us he had ordered American warships to prevent Russian warships from reaching Cuba.

Lolly squeezed my hand. “It’s so beautiful.”

“Yes.” 

One word. All I could manage as we gazed out at a world that might not be there tomorrow. Mutual Assured Destruction they called it — MAD. Yes, MAD. What else could you call it if humankind voluntarily exterminated itself?

We didn’t. We’re still here. Is that normal? Is just being here normal? Is that enough? Some rotten things happen sometimes.

Was it normal when a teen from another high school, angry that our football team had beaten his football team, broke a window in a Texas school where I was teaching and threw a gasoline soaked rag into a beautifully equipped physics classroom my friend Bill Tolar had worked on for 26 years?

I remember the next morning as Bill and I stood staring at smoldering ruins. I was speechless, but Bill said ...

Ah! That’s it! I knew there was a reason I started typing this. Sitting here tapping on this keyboard and pondering the meaning of “normal” I just realized that 33 years ago I missed a chance to learn something.

What did Bill say? 

“God is good.”

Can you see what I mean? I’m here. I’m here and I can take care of my beloved. Is that normal? At my age? I don’t think so.

I’ll tell you what though, Johnny. I’ll settle for it. 

Thank you, Lord.

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