The time to concentrate on living a safe and cautious life is now.  We are all currently experiencing a dress rehearsal on the new normal and there will be a lasting cone of separation between us and everyday life.  We might as well consider the twists and turns of the highway ahead as well as the many pros and cons awaiting us. The reality is that 2020 will go down in history as a complete nightmare, but hopefully, it was also a wake-up call.


Our new life will be more mindful, focused on staying alert with a mindset for the group collective and we will have choices, but it won’t be the unabashed “liberties” we are used to. I understand and support wearing masks everywhere, yet I feel there is something “dehumanizing” about it. Seeing groups of masked people in a public setting brings a whole new meaning to the significance of our eyes. Facial expressions are such important methods of communication. Our expressiveness and intellect, our sense of humor even, appear in the eyes but also in the slight corners of our mouths and in the subtle wrinkling of a nose. If you are a person like me who grins widely and freely, this indicator of warmth and familiarity will be sadly missed. A smile makes us feel better; it’s an act of connecting with a stranger, it is kindness in action. Now, we must look longer, stay with the gaze and appreciate those crinkles in the eyes of a cashier at the grocery or the bank teller, so our language will evolve and the nuances not entirely missed.


How we greet others minus hugs and kisses is a big deal, too! Touch reduces stress and aside from a massive bar of fine Swiss chocolate, there is nothing like a cocoon-like hug. Touch makes us human and the energy is transferred into a bond of togetherness. Well, gone are greeting and parting hugs and they are already mourned, especially if you are an extrovert like me. We will have to re-wire our brains to produce another method of embracing. We might have to relax our bodies in other ways that could include the importance of nature. Substitutions await us. Replace that big hug, go outside and discover nature. Yogis call it grounding, feeling the embrace of the warm earth or envisioning you are enwrapped in sunlight.


While human touch is a loss, practicing mindfulness in nature is like Valium for the brain. We could learn a lot from this new practice. Before COVID, I never realized the conversations birds have with each other, the flapping of leaves, sounds of night insects and if you are lucky enough, the belching of frogs. Silence is also an invisible hug once you tune in to your surroundings. You are actually connecting, just more in your spirit than in the flesh. The virus has directed us back to nature from where we originally belonged and your brain will thank you for it. Nature definitely puts the brakes on being self-involved and you might just find yourself in an introvert paradise.


Large celebrations could become a thing of the past due to COVID as we focus on quality vs. quantity in friendships. It won’t matter anymore if you have 2,498 friends on Facebook, but rather the renewal of smaller, cherished relationships. I will say “Adios” to the traditional seven-course luscious meals in New Orleans where you eat for hours and talk about what the next meal will be. The intimate table for two will feel differently, especially if we are enclosed in Plexiglas around each table. Somehow the romance vanishes with those see-through walls so we must rewire our brains and fantasize.


Grocery shopping will be different in our future. Currently, I feel a slight sense of panic when I see certain shelves already empty from time to time. Even my own pantry shelves go bare as I spread out my shopping and gone are the days where I run-up to the store for a single ingredient for that evening’s meal. At the end of the week, pickings are slim, so we must be inventive. Say you have a hankering for meatballs and spaghetti, but dinner could be grilled cheese and tomato soup. We have to close our eyes, be flexible and visualize meatballs. I’ve been cooking at home since February and am not a gourmet cook by any means. My eating at home every day has morphed into an unexpected positive health change and results in making good food choices. Finally, my sodium intake is my choice.


I’ve come to terms with knowing I cannot plan a trip anytime in the near future. For once in my life, shopping isn’t enjoyment any longer while makeup becomes less and less important with mask-covered faces. (Well, eye-makeup is an exception.)   Our new reality will be concentrated on the small rituals and daily pleasures. Since the COVID outbreak, the earth is inhaling and alive. Our earth is recovering. Air pollution is slowing down. By limiting our activity and staying indoors, air and water are becoming fresh and clean and wildlife is emerging and thriving. A shocker for me was seeing the Venetian canals finally populated by fish and even dolphins! Our planet was suffocating and disgustingly sickly before the virus; however, we are now acutely aware of how we need to change to coexist with our planet.


Likewise, as painful as it has been, COVID has exposed so many of the systems that have failed our fellow humans of color. Without weddings and vacations, sports and award shows to distract us, we can confront the realities of inequality, of systemic racism, of the health system that doesn’t serve us all. Our eyes are glued to those demanding change and we can stand with them and demand a new way forward. In this unique precipice, we can choose real liberty – one that supports our citizens more equally and prizes the natural world and protects it.


Our new normal may be more reserved with fewer giant celebrations, but as we become more mindful of relationships and choose a new way forward, we are protecting each other more fiercely and more fully.


Photo credit:  Lorna Dancey/Lorna Dancey Photography