I received a New Year’s greeting from a friend of mine and guest columnist Chuck Berk that ended with the following sentiment: “and back to normal, normal, … not new normal.” I had to read it a couple times to make sure I understood the message, but when its meaning sunk in, I truly appreciated the concept.
Now I do not think that Rosh Hashanah will begin to usher in a return to pre-COVID life, but I do believe that pre-COVID life will return in our new year, and more importantly, I am not hoping for a new normal. I am anticipating normal, normal, as soon as possible.
The first indication that we will ultimately return to normal, normal, is to take our cues from the past. World War II was certainly more devasting to the worldwide economy than our current economic shut down so far (and caused the death of over 80 million people). Yet just a few years after, the world’s economy, and specifically America’s economy, flourished to the likes never before seen. Comparing apples to apples, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 on the heels of World War I – considered the deadliest in history – infected an estimated 500 million people (more statistically relevant, one-third of the world’s population) and killed between 20 to 50 million people. Compared to COVID, there are about 30 million confirmed cases (four-tenths of 1 percent of the world’s population) and 1 million deaths.
Even if both of these benchmarks increase significantly, I think it is fair to say it most likely will not reach Spanish flu levels, and clearly, the world bounced back completely from the Spanish flu pandemic.
Another telltale sign is the amount of resources we have invested in normal, normal, combined with the human spirit. I can’t envision the human condition where social distancing is the norm, but I see a sea of pent-up demand for normal activities that must represent a quarter of our GDP. They include going to restaurants, bars, music venues and dance clubs; attending college and professional sporting events or concerts, dance, comedy and theatrical performances; and being part of in-person business meetings, school (at every level), shopping, and even just family visits and dinner parties.
The physical buildings will not disappear, the outpouring of creativity will not wane, the need for people to become productive again will not dissipate, the desire to pursue leisure activities will never be cast aside, and the need to spend quality time with family and friends will never vanish. Zoom has served us well and will continue to be an important tool in our toolbox, but it will never be more than one arrow in a quiver. I do not believe we will start to disassemble our economy and radically change our behavior because of a virus of this magnitude. We should be learning from how well our massive food chain and healthcare delivery systems have coped with this pandemic.
I have no interest in a new normal, nor do I think our economy wants it, and I certainly do not believe we are relegated to it. It is a defeatist attitude from which I will distance myself.
As we head into Rosh Hashanah, our high holidays and our New Year, let our spirits be raised by the prospect of getting back to normal, normal. Let that be the shining light at the end of the tunnel, the unwavering goal for ourselves, our family, our friends and the entire community.
P.S.: During this fall season, take the opportunity to thank a police officer, or better yet, buy them lunch or a cup of coffee. Defunding, disrespecting or challenging the very people that keep us safe, day-in and day-out, is a new norm concept. Throw it out. Let’s get back to normal, normal, as it pertains to our courageous and dependable men and women in uniform as quickly as possible!