The Seventh Plague

Finding an Old Normal in the Midst of Great Losses

The world is just three months into letting go of an old definition of what is normal. We’ve endured tremendous losses. The loss of life is staggering. It’s so great that we’re having trouble tallying it. It now looks like death statistics from all over the world may be off by 60 percent. Excess deaths in the U.S. for March may be close to twice the number of deaths reported in official statistics for the coronavirus.

Even if we are not feeling the intense sting of losing a loved one, every one of us is feeling the the loss of normalcy. Every aspect of our daily life has changed and it will continue to change. We can shout all we like about “reopening.” But all that shouting will not un-change everything.

New Normal?

There’s actually nothing new about facing a new normal. After the 2008 financial crisis, “new normal” became a term of art in the business world. Financial markets were just not going to go back to the way they worked before.

Our current crisis is much broader. Normal is out the window for every aspect of our lives. How we care for ourselves and our families is radically different. So is work. Health and fitness rituals can’t be the same. Our patterns for enjoying food are almost surely different.

When it comes to food and health, we’re hearing about both challenges and upsides. LeAnn Kindness is a nutrition professional and product manager in the nutrition business unit at Tivity Health. She explains:

Some people are finding it easier to stay with their goals. That’s because the temptation of restaurants and social eating are gone. In their case, the food environment has completely changed for the better. The structure of a plan is helping them maintain a feeling of control.

The other side is people finding comfort in emotional eating. Concerns about weight are adding to their stress. So simply adapting to the new norm is all they want to deal with right now.

In this environment, Tivity’s Nutrisystem business unit is seeing a favorable response to the healthy, pre-portioned meals it delivers to people at home. One less thing to worry about.

Inspiration from an Old New Normal

It turns out that adapting to human tragedies and a loss of normalcy is nothing new at all. For centuries, Europe dealt with a tremendous loss of lives in wave after wave of the bubonic plague. Milan became quite adept at social distancing and other tools to stem the tide of this plague. Its shadow shaped every aspect of life in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

Ironically, though, this became a time of great creativity – the Renaissance. In 1597, Philipp Nicolai was a Lutheran Pastor in Westphalia. The plague took the lives of 1,300 church members from him. In his grief, he wrote How Brightly Shines the Morning Star – a chorale that has inspired composers now for centuries.

That same era marked the emergence of the calendar that to this very day gives order to our lives  all over the world – the Gregorian calendar. It first came into use in 1582. Even today, this is how we mark the normal passage of time.

So perhaps, as we look for a new sense of normal, we can find some inspiration from the notion there’s nothing at all new about our struggle. For many centuries, we have sought after a sense of normalcy and inspiration for overcoming great upheavals. The coronavirus is a challenge. But it is also a mere blip.

Maybe we will discover that our new normal is actually quite old.

Click here for more about our quest for normalcy. For a fascinating perspective on how we mark time, even in a health crisis, click here.

The Seventh Plague, painting by John Martin / WikiArt

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April 28, 2020