Are we there yet? How much longer, I wonder, asking with that tiring tone much like that small kids employ during a long car ride. How long till we arrive at the much-touted promised land – the ‘new normal’? That word has been used, misused, over-used. If ever a man was familiar with ‘new normal’ it must be Noah.
It had been 150 days since Noah, his crew of family and their animal passengers had the door of the ark shut behind them by God. The earth had flooded and all life destroyed but those in the ark which had risen with the waters, floating and drifting along, finally landing on Mount Ararat. There is no record of the usual Captain-of-the-flight advance announcement about the ground weather conditions. They had come to the end of this leg of their journey to the unknown. After all those days of being locked in the confines of the ark with possibly the same routines, noises and smells every day were they in the new normal yet?
Another two and a half months passed within which the waters receded and the mountain peaks became visible. But how were the conditions on the ground? After 40 more days Noah released a raven in the hope it would bring back a clue, but it did not return. Hardly a good sign. He sent out a dove which seemingly had more sense and finding no place to land, it came back to the ark.
You know that place where you wonder what is a reasonable time to wait before making another attempt? Noah thought seven days of waiting were enough and he released the dove again which returned to him with a fresh olive shoot heralding to Noah that the floodwaters were almost gone. Was it time yet? Bidding his time, a skill he’d by now had ample opportunity to learn, he sent out another messenger dove after seven days, this one did not return. It had now been 10.5 months and the water had almost dried up. He concluded that surely by now the worst was behind them which he confirmed when he removed the ark’s covering. Indeed, the surface of the ground was dry and in another two months, the earth was dry!
It was after this that he heard the voice every flying passenger looks forward to, that of the pilot authorising the cabin crew to open the doors, signalling the end of the flight. God spoke to Noah authorising him and all those with him to disembark from the ark. They had, at last, arrived and could step into the ‘new normal’!
My Covid-19 voyage started with denial. Girl#2 had tried to get us to prepare. As early as February she started policing our hand washing – was it often, with soap and for at least 20 seconds? She unearthed a packet of gloves that she started wearing and stepped on her soapbox, discouraging us from shaking hands and hugging. We laughed at her saying the pandemic was too far away – all the way in China – for goodness sake! She was not dissuaded and continued to track the numbers despite being the butt of our jokes.
Then March 13 happened! It set off a surreal succession of events, making it clear life as we knew it had changed. In its wake was fear, anxiety, uncertain livelihoods, closure of schools, working from home, masks, sanitising, cancelled events, and a general state of limbo. I was blindsided by a strong sense of being out of control. On the heels of this feeling was the realisation of how much we take our planning for granted especially when everything hums along like clockwork. I appreciated the fact that we are not as in control of our lives as we would like to believe. I realised a lot of my pre-Covid19 sense of security was simply a misplaced trust in my ‘perfect plans’.
As I reflect back, I find comical my expectation that the virus would be brought under control in short order and we would resume our lives as we knew them. Initially, I imagined two weeks of lockdown would do the trick…then five…then surely by June…then really by September. Now, I, like many others have pinned my hopes on January as though I have a cosmic promissory note maturing then with guaranteed pay-out of a normal life…or at least the ‘new normal’ tested, debugged and ready to be deployed.
After the initial frantic weeks of sheltering in place and social distancing, we started to relax. Letting down our guard, going out grocery shopping, scrubbing down the grocery in a less panicky manner and stealing into the occasional get together of friends or family. We got bolder, clamouring to be allowed to go to face to face church, venturing to restaurants, attending social gatherings and even setting dates for flights. All we wanted was to come out of our houses and were unhappy with anyone holding us back with curfews, lockdowns and limitation of numbers all in either a desperate or foolhardy grab for the ‘new normal’. We realise that so much will never be the same again but we still want ‘things’ to settle so we can proceed with the business of our lives.
Then the so-called flattened curve refused to cooperate and stay down. Lockdowns began around the world once again. The brush with the virus is now too close for comfort. It seemed that no sooner had we started to make ourselves at home in the ‘new normal’ than the ground begun to tilt again. We are tired and discouraged. Once again, reminded that we are not in control. We engage our own actions akin to Noah’s sending out the raven and the doves, peering out of the ark, trying to make sense of what is happening. We argue with each other on the need for lockdown or curfews, we make predictions of when the curve will peak, we track the data and even speculate on whether the government is giving us the right data or feeding us whatever fits with the party line.
While God had promised to keep Noah, master of the new normal, safe, he had not told him how long he would remain in the ark. It must have seemed like forever. In an interesting turn of phrase, the author of the story, says that God remembered Noah. We can be sure this has nothing to do with Noah slipping out of the memory of the Almighty. But rather, God was ready for the next step and He took action to fulfil His promise to keep Noah safe. The wind blowing to dry the water, the sight of mountain peaks as the waters receded, and eventually, the olive leaf were all signs that God was at work even when it seemed like nothing was happening in like forever.
We too are tired of waiting. We peer out for glimpses of how the new normal might look like. It has implications on incomes, education, work and travel. We know for sure it will be different. Nevertheless, we want out and into the new normal. We can trust in God and in His timing. We can depend on His faithfulness and care even when we don’t understand what He is doing.
Noah survived the trauma of the flood emerging from the ark, to face the new and unfamiliar, a ‘new normal’. Right now, the waters might batter us and even find their way behind the barriers of protection we have put around ourselves. Let the story of Noah remind us of His God, who not only kept him safe in the flood but has provided the ultimate ark that is foolproof against the ultimate danger we all face which is eternal death and separation from God.
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