Jan. 6 went like any other day: sitting alone in my room watching Netflix when my Samsung Galaxy informed me of a horrifying circumstance, an occurrence that became very familiar to me during 2020.Earlier last year, it was reading about the George Floyd murder and the emergence of a new civil rights movement. In March 2020, it was binge researching the pandemic after being sent home from Goshen College
Unfortunately, trash TV shows couldn’t distract from the world’s brokenness coming to a head.
In 2020, the “new normal” wasn’t only about masks and Zoom calls. “Normal” also began to become synonymous with tragedy, pain always tainting the good.
I found out Biden was officially declared the winner of the 2020 presidential race after coming home from a socially distanced theater practice to my housemate gleefully staring at her New York Times app. My housemates and I toasted with teacups of kombucha and welcomed in “a new era,” when my mind went from celebrating to, “Oh, God. There is no way for this to proceed peacefully, is there?”
I carried that thought with me until the mob stormed the capitol. There are a lot of negative emotions that accompany hearing that a violent assault has taken place in your country’s capital: anger, terror, hopelessness. But do you know which emotion trumped them all?
My shock had worn out.
But is that surprising when our bodies are constantly taking in global trauma through our lives and our news apps? On one hand, we need to know about structural injustice in order to change it. On the other, we can get so caught up in the news flow that violent mobs incited by powerful government officials can feel mundane.
So here is the question: When atrocity is being normalized, how do we maintain our fire and our sanity?
Doing what nourishes us in our fight against injustice instead of what numbs us to injustice is complicated, and I personally am very bad at it. But as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr tells us, we must balance finding peace in the unchangeable and courage in the face of the malleable.
The “new normal” is not a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been used to describe drastic changes to the lives of individuals from epidemics to financial crises, changes that we have little power to resist.
But what happened this month and the further permitting of fascism and violence cannot be normalized. Does that mean denying that it is very much a part of our nation’s history? No. It means using our individual and collective voice to create a new normal.
We can’t just post a black square in June and expect healing from 300-year-old problems with this nation.
My advice? Be angry. It is not only alright to be angry right now, it is essential. Don’t become numb to injustice.