“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
Although it is most often in our relationship to our sexuality that we struggle to figure out what is “normal,” the weight of normal also impacts other ways we perceive and think, often obliterating our ability to see all the good that is happening in our lives. For me, the beginning of autumn has always felt like the real beginning of the new year; with the last days of summer and the start of school, it’s time to re-think our connection to maintaining normality in our lives. In fact, it may be that how we think about normal is really how we live it.
Give up getting back to normal
Constant change is the true pattern of life. Nothing stays the same for long, be it the seasons, the weather, political events, and most especially the ups and downs of relating to the other people who inhabit our lives. For decades, my normal has been rooted in the chaos of growing kids and their multitudes of interests and events. So this summer, when the kids returned home, it felt easy to slip back into the normal I knew; I was comforted by the return of music blaring, piles of laundry, and big grocery bills. But now the kids have gone away again, and I am returned to my too-big empty nest. Although I thought this second year of letting go of them would be easier, I am discovering that finding my way back into this new normal is something that I have to re-learn over and over again. The truth is that there isn’t really any getting back to normal; there is just embracing the time in front of us.
The name is true for my kids themselves. Each time they return to their lives away from home, those lives are different from the ones they left behind. Each year requires opening to and creating a new kind of normal. Just before my son left this fall, he came into my bedroom to tell me that he had finally gotten why he had been struggling for so long: “It’s like I was trying to make my life feel like swimming in a lake, but really this whole time I have been floating down a fast-moving river.”
Stop taking normal for granted
This past week I found myself at the doctor’s office investigating a recently discovered lump under my arm. I was reminded again of how quickly things go from normal to not normal, especially when it concerns our health. Accidents happen, and time takes its toll on the body. With each passing decade the risk of cancer increases, yet still we are shocked that something has gone wrong. It’s only when we are hurting that we realize just how much there is to lose. Although my doctor assured me that it would all be fine, I left his office with a taste of losing all that I take for granted in my normal state of good health.
Waking up to the truth of our own human fragility and the fact that no one gets any guarantees on time should make us all truly grateful for all the many days we get in relative good health. Yet each time I face some kind of potential health trauma, whether my own or that of someone I love, I realize how easy it is to forget that this perceived state of normal is just my way of not paying attention to how good it really all is.
Connect normal to community
It’s really hard to find normal in isolation, especially when it comes to our most personal experiences of how we feel and perceive ourselves. The more we live apart from others, the more difficult it is to really know the normality of our own feelings and perceptions, because it is only through the context of human community that we can take some true measure of ourselves. Like it or not, we humans are social animals, and those of us who find healthy and sustainable connections to a larger community do better by almost every yardstick. Alternative sexual communities are a great example of how connection to others helps us better understand our own unique sexual identities. The more we are willing to spend time and allow ourselves the vulnerability of being seen by others, the more we seek out and fall into the shelter of normal that only community can provide.
My son’s analogy about floating a river is a good one when it comes to finding and sustaining a sense of normal in our lives. We know that the water will be continuously changing, but we also know that it isn’t worth the ride if we aren’t paying attention to how beautiful it is, how good it feels, while surrounding ourselves with people who watch our journey.