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Welcome back to "NORMAL?"

There's no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic was tough. It turned our world upside down. It disrupted our routines, forced us to stay home, made us confront the fragility of life and pushed us well beyond the limits of our comfort zone.

But amid our collective fear and suffering, I believe there have been some silver linings. For many of us, we have learned to be kinder and care more for our neighbor, we slowed down, parents spent more time with their kids -- in person and on Zoom. We focused more on our physical and mental health and learned to appreciate the smallest things we used to take for granted. We proved to ourselves how resilient we are, and we treated each other with compassion.

As we rush to get "back to normal," there are some lessons learned from our time under lockdown that we should keep, and even build upon, to create a new normal -- better than the one before.

"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."

So how do we live on the other side of this Covid-19 pandemic? What lessons can we hold onto from living in this time?

First and foremost, we need to keep family close and work more flexible. Being stuck at home with toddlers or teenagers and juggling work was a nightmare for many as offices and schools suddenly shut overnight. But slowly -- and not necessarily by choice -- work hours became more flexible as parents scheduled meetings around virtual classes and mealtimes for their kids.

Children "Zoom-bombing" meetings became the norm, work calls taken on walks were encouraged, and we gave up trying to be perfect for being human. Most importantly, families who were physically together spent much more time with each other, reminding us how precious relationships are.

For those separated from those they love, "family" took on a new meaning with friends, neighbors or strangers in their community forming sacred pandemic bubbles. Even families miles apart spent more screen time together as we checked in on each other, commiserated and celebrated milestones virtually.

The word "office" came to mean a bedroom, closet, outdoor coffee shop or (for the lucky ones) a sun lounger by the pool. But we realized that we could be effective and productive making "work" fit into our circumstances rather than adapting our lives to fit a corporate mold. And as our tunnel vision on work widened, it allowed life in all its beauty and horror to teach us how to live a more rounded and fulfilling existence.

Secondly, we had the opportunity to focus more on our mental health and spirituality.

The pandemic affected us individually in different ways. There was no guidebook on how to get through it but collectively, there was a shift to self-care, to give ourselves space and patience in our vulnerability in order to work through it. For some that was journaling, others took daily walks or long bubble baths, still others, it was opening up to a stronger and more vibrant prayer life. Self-care was no longer seen as an indulgence but a necessity to keep going.

When we lost the ability to gather for corporate worship, we found other ways to connect through social media. We at St. John’s first started in early 2020 with live streaming on Facebook our Sunday Services. While it was kind of intermittent as we were learning, we finally put on our “big boy pants” and streamed services like pros! We were able to follow the service at least, whether we thought the sermons were informative and helpful or not. We set boundaries for ourselves as we prioritized our spiritual and mental health -- seeking help, crying, dancing, screaming, praying, or even laughing for no reason -- almost nothing was off the table as long as it was helping.

That time has allowed us to grow, to get to know ourselves better and to face buried demons or forgotten dreams and to work on self-improvement. We seemed to have embraced stronger adaptability quotient. Lockdown forced us to try new ways of doing things. It wasn't easy but the impossible became possible and many of us now have a more empowered perspective of our capabilities.

Many of us learned new skills. Some started selling their newly designed products direct to consumers on Instagram and other social media sites. Others changed profession entirely. With gyms closed we embraced more old-fashioned forms of exercise such as running, biking or walking. We joined virtual workouts which, in turn, opened us up to a new, wider audience.

From doctors' appointments to weddings to worship and concerts – we have learned to Zoom and stream, where many amazing things happened over the last couple of years. Most notably, the pandemic proved that we are resilient.

And lastly hopefully we have learned to have more gratitude for the life. Remember the global applause for our healthcare workers? Remember how grateful we felt for any random act of kindness from a stranger's smile to a ray of sunshine?

The bleakness of the pandemic and universal suffering helped us see the good things that happened in a new light. We appreciated what we had so often taken for granted. Spontaneous performances filled us with joy, leaving our house for a walk was a moment to cherish. Smallest victories became a reason to celebrate. Expressing gratitude also improved our relationships and make those around us much happier.

During this time, we focused on others, checking in on them, buying groceries for those more vulnerable who couldn't risk exposure. Communities rallied to share food and essential supplies. We felt like we were all in this together with a common Covid-19 enemy.

And yet, as we begin to turn the corner, around the world, so many countries are still suffering. They are nowhere near the United States in overcoming the pandemic. Similarly, not everyone has the luxury of a hybrid-model of work, many are still unemployed or paralyzed by fear or grief.

Realizing how fortunate some of us are and being grateful for it is an important mindset for recovery. Those of us with that privilege must remember that our good fortune is an opportunity to lift others up.

Ultimately life will never be exactly the same. There's been a huge loss of life and suffering all over the world and that impact will be felt for many, many years to come. But for those lucky enough to start getting back to "normal" -- this is an opportunity to collectively redefine what “normal” means.

Then the question is, does normal mean just “normal,” as before the pandemic, or something “new,” where we can start afresh with vision beyond what was before the pandemic? Of course, this is not to say the pandemic is completely over either. We all still must be diligent in our efforts to mitigate this virus.

Maya Angelou once said, "If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."

I say, “Lets find our "new normal." Let’s start with an overwhelmingly FULL church! We are returning this week to in-person worship at both 8 AM and 10:30 AM at St. John’s, in Hopewell. We will also continue to stream our 10:30 AM service on YouTube and Facebook for your convenience, but we sure hope you will come in person when you can! Blessings as always! Fr. Bill+



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