Poem 24 (National Poetry Month): When We Return to “Normal”

Everything feels wrong now, and it seems that everyone is trying to quantify it and box it up and make it what they’ve always known. “Don’t judge people if you see them not wearing a mask or taking their kids out or trying to go back to work—you don’t know what they’re going through,” say some. This is true. But it does not escape my sense of fairness that some of these people are the same ones who are quick to judge those who take their families and flee from death and poverty in other countries. Don’t judge them, either. You don’t know what they’ve gone through.

We all want to go back to “normal”, but I don’t think we’re ever going to get back there from here. We’ll go back to some semblance of day-to-day life, but I believe what scifi writers have been warning us about—that some event would come along eventually that would change us forever—has finally happened. Where we go from here is really up to us. We can remain politically divided with half of us in denial about our doom and the other half constantly lecturing about it—or we can unite and fight for survival. I pray we opt to find the best in all of us when we declare victory over this virus…and return to “normal”.

When We Return to “Normal:

By Michelle Garren Flye

“I like that lady’s mask, Mommy.”

The little boy doesn’t wear a mask.

His face bare, he points at me.

Why is he here, I’d love to ask?

But life now is far from easy;

You can’t judge or take to task

Those whose differences you see.

Maybe we will remember this lesson

When we can declare our battle won.

When the world returns to “normal”

And we look each other in the face again

We may remember we are all mortal

And not judge each other by colors of skin.

Maybe we will recall we’re all one world

And where we come from is not our sin.

Maybe this can be done because it’s natural

When we survive a crisis with our fellow man.

Yes, let’s look at each other and see only “us”

When we stand on the battlefield victorious.

Like a flower conquering concrete, we will survive. It’s where we go from there that matters. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I love the word “epiphany”. Here’s mine from today.

I’m not home right now, and maybe that’s why I’m a little more sensitive…and observant. I’m actually in the little town I went to college in, and it seems like everywhere I look, I see myself twenty-odd years younger. The idea that I might catch a glimpse of myself from those glory days when I was more beautiful than I thought and not nearly as smart as I believed makes me look a little closer at the people I pass. And today that led me to an epiphany.

God, I do love that word. And it describes what I felt so perfectly. It was like an explosion of perfect knowledge inside my head.

It was as I passed by a beautiful young woman dressed in a business suit. She couldn’t have been much older than the college students, and she looked tired. I began to imagine her story because she reminded me of me at that age. She’d just come from a job interview. She has a few more classes to finish up in summer school and then she’ll have her degree in business administration or education or library science or economics. Her future is full of uncertainty and promise and she’s having a hard time dealing with everything that’s being thrown at her but she’s doing her best.

And I started wondering why I knew that. And BAM!

I realized it’s because she’s just like me. She’s walking along, keeping all her emotions in check and all her worries and insecurities safely beneath the surface so I won’t see them. But I know them because they’re mine, too. Or they were at one time. And that’s when it really hit me that we’re all the same. We’re all insecure. We all worry about tomorrow and our imperfect bodies and our health and losing the people we love. We all try to keep it under wraps so we don’t freak out the other guy. But the other guy’s doing the same thing. And for just a second as I walked down the street, I could see it clearly. The girl I was passing, the old man sitting on the side of the road offering to have his dog do tricks for a dollar, the biker, the people waiting at the bus stop. And me.

All souls contained by the thin skin of our bodies.

What would happen if everyone everywhere suddenly had that same epiphany? What if we all realized that those little things don’t matter and we can’t change how other people see us and those people are worrying about how we see them, anyway? What if we all stopped trying to suck in our stomachs and say the exact right thing and not look too closely at the people we don’t think we want to know?

Like all explosions, this one was over quickly. What I’m writing now comes only from the last embers of it. It doesn’t come close to the moment of perfect knowledge, but at least I can share this much of it.