A Funny Thing Happened when Things Returned to Normal

By Troy Headrick

About two weeks ago, I physically returned to my workplace, a community college, Mondays through Thursdays.  On Fridays, we stay home and work remotely exactly as we’ve been doing since mid-March of 2020.

Of course, there are health protocols in place now that we’ve gone back in person.  For example, each morning, before going to either of the two writing centers I manage, I have to get my temperature checked, answer a brief health questionnaire, and receive and don a colored wristband that indicates I’ve been screened.  Additionally, I wear a mask and am required to get my nostrils swabbed once a week to make sure I remain uninfected.

Shortly before returning to work, those in power published a document claiming that good times were here again, and therefore it was perfectly reasonable for us to return to work just like in the good old days.  However, if you’ve looked at the infection rates in Texas, you can easily understand how such a declaration took many of us by surprise. 

Here’s the thing:  Since returning to campus, I’ve been having these odd, daily feelings.  All this was intended to create the impression that things were back to normal.  In fact, the opposite has occurred.  As it turns out, few students registered for in-person classes, so the campus is like a ghost town.  I sit in my empty writing center and note how unoccupied the building is.  From time to time, I see a member of the janitorial crew push a mop in one of two possible directions in the hallway.  The few people who do reach out for help come to us via Zoom.  Of course, there is an absurdity to all this.  I drive to a campus, enter a deserted building, get on my computer, and then help people who are sitting in their bedrooms at home.  When I occasionally walk across a bit of campus, I see no one.  The college looks like a setting for a sci-fi movie that might be entitled The Last Earthling.  

The other day, I told one of my tutors—I am occasionally accompanied by one or two—that I couldn’t shake this feeling we were living in a post-apocalyptic world, and that I expected, at any moment, to hear the shuffling footsteps of a horde of zombies moving down the corridor toward us.  She shivered and said, “I was just thinking that exact same thing.”

I’m now left with the impression that things really have changed in very profound (and perhaps irreversible) ways.  There’s likely no going back to what our world once was because people have been changed by this life-altering pandemic.   Reality does not exist separately from people and human behavior no matter how much we try to shape it with proclamations. 

Our writing center used to be an amazingly vibrant place.  It was a gathering of students and writers and friends.  It was a place of contemplation and conversation.  Today, none of that exists, and it’s hard to imagine any of that returning any time soon (if ever).  In fact, it could be that sort of place now because the campus is very much open.  There is nothing keeping people from coming back in droves other than their own desire to stay away.  And the longer people stay away, the less likely they’ll return.  New norms are developing.  Human beings are very adaptable creatures.

Don’t get me wrong.  I get why the attempt was made.  Many of us feel nostalgia for a world that was.  But we have to be courageous enough to realize that the future may never look like the past.  Of course, this might sadden us for a time, but we mustn’t wallow in self-pity.  There’s a future that needs shaping, and it is our job to do the shaping. 

I look forward to reading your comments.  Thanks very much for giving me your time and attention.        

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.

48 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened when Things Returned to Normal

    1. President Joe Biden has this slogan that I really like. He says we have to “build back better.” It’s not enough to go back to the way things were. We need to look for better and fairer and more just ways of organizing ourselves and our lives. Thanks for commenting.

  1. Well, I wouldn’t know for sure because being home bound for quite a while now. The only difference I see is that my husband who is under the work from home bug is getting bitten beyond the human capabilities due to his nature of work. Although he has the luxury of having home cooked foods but what’s the point if mentally drained? What I feel is like people should develop thought development skills when it comes to adaptability and emotional stability which is killed by this pandemic.

    1. I wish you and your husband all the best. Even though I generally liked working from home, I was always quite aware that what I was doing was still WORK no matter where I was doing it. I’m a bit of an introvert, so the whole remote work thing suited my personality. Plus, I really hate the morning commute. Thanks so much for reading my blog and commenting.

  2. I teach in uni, and everyone’s excited for the reopening of the campuses here. Reading this made me think of the same possibility that not everyone will abruptly return to school like normal. Hoping for better days, though!

    1. Hi. I think introverts like the whole remote learning thing while extroverts hate it. In America, I think people are already “hiding behind” technology. Many young folks are more into their telephones than they are into meeting others the old-fashioned way, via face-to-face interactions. As a long-time student of human nature, I’m curious where all this is leading us. Thanks for commenting.

    1. I’m pretty optimistic. I think the pandemic has made many people look inward and learn more about themselves and set priorities. Those are very good developments. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. “Return to normalcy” was Warren G. Harding’s 1920 campaign slogan. The word normalcy didn’t exist in any dictionary. He made it up. It reflects a universal human desire that results from living in interesting times.

    An employer insisting that everything is normal? I don’t know if that’s the employer cynically telling the employee that reality isn’t real or if it is genuine magical thinking on the employer’s part. Texas’ government is certainly renowned for its magical thinking.

    1. Thanks for that historical factoid. I can always rely on learning something new every time you respond to one of my posts. It is a challenge living in the American South. The Lone Star State has its share of nitwits, nincompoops, magical thinkers, and reactionaries. I keep telling my wife that it’s way past time for us to pack up and head overseas. Unfortunately, this right-wing lunacy is prevalent in many parts of the world right now.

    1. Having lived so many different kinds of lives in so many different kinds of countries, I no longer believe in the idea of “normal.” Plus, my main goal in life has long been to live an extraordinary life. Why would I want to be normal? Blah!

  4. Troy- excellent piece to contemplate- from my perspective- I believe that we will get back closer to “normal “ we’re social creatures and need contact. Humanity has survived much worse in my opinion. I really wish I could be confident with the information we’re being fed was accurate. Too much is being just vanquished and ridiculed. I believe, for the most part people can make good decisions if given the right information.

    1. I hope you’re right about people being able to do the right thing if given good information. I see so many people buying into outlandish ideas about all sorts of things. The belief in such ideas often corresponds to one’s political affiliations. I’d feel much better if more people were a bit more skilled at critical thinking. Thanks so much for the comment.

  5. ‘There’s a future that needs shaping, and it is our job to do the shaping.’
    I totally agree… If only it was easier😶

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Wow – fascinating! I would think that sooner or later writers need to get out of their pajamas to at the very least to observe, interact and find material to write about! Love your idea that it’s our job to do the shaping – a call for creativity of a different type!

    1. There’s a kind of slogan going around that I find very attractive. It goes something like this: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Lots of truth there. No big daddy savior is going to fix things for us. We have to get our hands dirty and get in the fight ourselves. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Lovely piece! Very positive.
    I like, “There’s a future that needs shaping, and it is our job to do the shaping.” I think shaping the future will have to be done individually, and collectively.
    Moreover, we need to consciously move away from the idea of going back to what our world once was. Because every time our world has gone through major upheavals like world wars, tsunamis, invasions, and epidemics, etc. people have resolutely adapted to a new way of life and established a new normal.
    We will once again rise to this challenge and adapt.

    1. Agreed! The old ways weren’t good enough. We have to move forward, to progress, to seek for a world that’s fairer, more inclusive, more equitable. I’m often not a fan of political slogans, but Biden’s “Build back better” works for me. Thanks for the comment.

    1. You’ve spoken wisely in my opinion. It seems that too many of us learn too little and too slowly. What else do you think we need to learn? I’d be very interested to hear your opinion on this?

  8. Troy, it’s been a long long time since we, as a civilization, has experience such a humongous change. Maybe this happened with the Spanish Flu epidemic too, but I don’t think so. Perhaps when the bubonic plaque was in force, the world changed this much. I’m thinking we, as a civilization, were overdue for a colossal transmutation. This isn’t to say that I wanted this, but I am in a mode of learning how to adjust to it as I experience it. It would be futile to try to ignore it or try to change it back. Some people are trying to do one of these two things, but it isn’t working well for them.

    1. Thanks for the wisdom. Well, time and circumstances are going to push us forward no matter how much we dig in our heels and resist. Nature has a way of have the last word. Don’t you think that’s true?

  9. You’re right, this seems also strange to work in a whole different environment.
    This pandemic have affected human behaviour and trust.
    Things are gonna be like this now. We can’t do anything. We have to accept it. I understand your feeling. The same happened to me as well and I think to every person as well.

    1. During fearful periods, there’s also great possibility. When things fall apart, it provides us with the opportunity to put them back together again. This is such a moment. Let’s look at this period through hopeful eyes. Thanks for the comment.

  10. I’ve thought for a long while before writing this and still don’t know whether it’s wise. Troy, you wrote:
    Our writing center used to be an amazingly vibrant place. It was a gathering of students and writers and friends. It was a place of contemplation and conversation. Today, none of that exists, and it’s hard to imagine any of that returning any time soon (if ever).
    And I found that one of the saddest things I’ve read for a long while. But I profoundly disagree with your conclusion that we must all ‘adapt’ to some kind of new reality. On the contrary, we need to reassert what I see as fundamental values. Of course some things will change, but do we not hold some things as inherently human? To quote Dylan Thomas: Do not go gentle into that good night.
    With all best wishes, Jerry Smith

  11. Thank you for that motivating ending: It’s our job to shape this new future! Before considering that, I was feeling a little more inclined to wallow… LOL. I keep thinking that things MUST go back to normal eventually, but like you said: the more time passes, and people choose to stay away, the more that old normal seems to fade. It’s scary how it is affecting work, school, and even travel (the impacts on travel are the scariest to me… My poor boss is dealing with a travel nightmare right now!). But I guess we will see. It’s an interesting time to be alive. It certainly has me on the edge of my seat!

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