Who worries about normal?

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

It felt normal.

I was sitting on the couch on a Sunday afternoon watching the Cincinnati Bengals play football. For a short while, it felt like everything was right with the world. I had a cold beer sitting on the end table. The chips were in a bowl. Snacks were at hand. The only thing that seemed slightly strange was that the Bengals were winning. Of course, that changed before the end of the game, but the day had the feel of a normal Sunday.

Our two youngest grandchildren had spent all day Saturday and Saturday night with us. We laughed and played games with them. I tried doing a few chores, but simply could not water the shrubs in the front yard without getting “little ones” soaked. They were running around playing with their Star Wars light sabers and threatening me if I didn’t squirt them. It didn’t take much threatening. I simply could not resist turning the hose on them. Their giggles and squeals of delight kept getting louder. By the time we were done, we all had to change into dry clothes. Even Memaw got in the path of a little side-spray. She didn’t giggle as much as the kids, but we were all laughing as we tracked wet footprints into the house.

Earlier in the day, we had attended another granddaughter’s birthday party. We had all looked forward to surprising their cousin Danni Grace at her party. It was fun, but things did seem a little strange when they realized they could not eat a cupcake through a facemask. Facemasks were placed with other party favors at every table. They were decorated with “Happy Birthday, Danni” written across the front of the mask. Ice cream and cupcakes. Balloons filled with paper glitter. Singing friends and family. A joyous 14-year-old birthday girl. Except for the facemasks, everything seemed to be normal.

That evening, we shared pizza while watching a kid-friendly movie on Amazon Prime.

On Sunday, as I watched the Bengals transition their slim lead into a heartbreaking loss, most things felt normal. Then occasionally the camera would pan out and show a wide shot of the empty stadium. Those were the times when I again realized that things were not normal. Our old normal would have shown some tipsy football fans with their faces painted orange and black. Banners would have been flying everywhere. The cheers and shouts would have been real … not pre-recorded and played over the public address system. It was far from normal.

Some people have tried to convince me that this is, and will be, our “new normal.” I will reject that notion and hold onto the prospect that the situation we are currently in is a temporary situation. We will move on. There may be some short-term changes that tend to hang around. Shaking hands my be replaced with a friendly fist-bump or shoulder-pat, but I doubt that hand shaking will disappear forever.

I certainly hope that hugging comes back. My wife and I are both huggers. It’s hard not to be with a really good friend or family member without giving them a friendly hug. As social beings we need social contact. Isolation doesn’t work well for us. The last six months have been difficult. It will get better.

Also, as social beings, we need to be comfortable with people who are not exactly like us. As Americans, we need to focus on what unites us, on what brings us together — not on what makes us different.

As a proud American of Irish descent, I would be offended to attend a professional sporting event that started with an “Irish National Anthem.” When it was written, “The Star Spangled Banner” may not have been representative of every person living in America, but over the centuries, with the social changes that have taken place, that song about our Star Spangled Banner should inspire all Americans. It is our “National Anthem.”

Is this country perfect? The answer must be “no.” But, slowly, and often painfully, we are struggling to get better. From the Civil War, to the ongoing struggle for everyone in this country to have the same and equal civil rights, we continue to struggle. We would be better, we could achieve more, if we all struggled together.

Each of us is different. Our differences are what make us unique and special. What a boring world it would be if we all looked the same, thought the same and agreed on everything.

Our strength should be that we may be different, but we can still respect each other.

Mutual respect for others. Now, that would be a “new normal” I could really wrap my arms around.


Randy Riley

Contributing columnist