I hear it several times a day — on the news, from friends, from colleagues, the vaccines will allow us to return to normal. Let’s not. Pre-pandemic times may seem like the best of times, a boon of productivity, equality, opportunities, everything was so much better before the virus. That’s what our brains remember. The mind has a way of playing tricks on you, you can begin to think that things were better than they actually were. Of course, being free and unmasked was liberating; but the last thing we need to do is return to “normal.” If normal means a retreat to the past, no thanks. I remember too many of us overworking, ignoring families, focusing on self, and ‘every man for himself’ types of attitudes.

The pandemic bought despair. Countless illnesses and deaths that we had no way to prepare for. We have lost far too many people. There is pain and grief that some may never heal from. Thanks to the tenacity of the health experts, we have effective vaccines. We are slowly returning to something, hopefully not the norm. I still think of the better days during quarantine. A good day was a day where everyone could find a mask and gloves. We had at least one bottle of disinfectant and we were blessed with several rolls of toilet paper. That was considered a good day. Add time to reflect, connect with family, laugh, cook, try new recipes, take a stroll in the fresh air — all of those things made some days better. Being inside afforded us irreplaceable time with families. I had forgotten how rare it was to actually sit at the kitchen table with a family member and just talk, not about bills or work, but about how we were feeling, how we were coping. The games that we were able to play would never have been played had we not been all safely inside together. I am thrilled that my kids now know how to play Pick-up sticks, the same game that me, my mom, my sister and brothers laughed over years ago, as we each tried to concentrate on picking up the next stick and gaining a point. What a blessing to pass on those memories and traditions. I remember flipping through old photo albums (old school) with the kids, us marveling at how much they had grown over the years. So, no back to normal for me, I plan to be at least a little bit better. I am determined to make more time for myself, more time for my family, more time for serving others, more time for my dreams and goals. I did not do any of those things nearly enough pre-pandemic. Now I consider it a mission. All those days inside gave me more time to focus on the needs of others. I have never donated more than during those quarantine times. Many felt the need to give more.

While extremely grateful for the eventual end of this pandemic, I am thankful for all that I learned throughout it. Family, faith, traditions and selflessness are some of the things that make life sweeter, more meaningful. Those are the things that should be normal.

T.R.Y. Life learner, mother, daughter, poet, teacher, rights crusader. Always on a mission.