Of all the new terms and phrases we’ve learned this year, I think perhaps one of the most hated is “the new normal.” We’ve been talking about it for months now, speculating about when this nebulous idea will actually appear and manifest itself in our daily lives.

At the beginning, I think we had this idea that it would be distinct. There was the old normal and then one day, the new normal was here and we all knew what it looked like and everyone acted accordingly; as if people are little robots who can be reprogrammed to live their lives in a completely different manner all with the stroke of a key or the pushing of a button.

Whatever the new normal actually is didn’t arrive quite like that — although for some it may have felt that way. The ushering in of this new lifestyle had elements that suddenly appeared one day and we’ve all been following the rules ever since, like mask-wearing, for instance. We just started doing it one day and now, if we forget to walk out of the house with one, it leaves us with the same sensation we feel when we forget our wallets.

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But most of the new normal kind of snuck its way into our daily routines. It was gradual. The habits we’ve formed all throughout this pandemic are likely to stick with us for some time to come and maybe even forever. Even after our social groups are fully vaccinated and there are no more “closed” tables at restaurants to make room for social distancing, some of our habits and some of our societal changes will never go back.

I doubt grocery stores remove the plexiglass in the checkout line. Restaurants and stores that never offered delivery or curbside takeout before the pandemic will likely keep these new revenue streams. We probably won’t just assume that we have a mild cold and go to work like normal, loading ourselves up with cough syrup on the way.

We’ve been asking ourselves when we will get back to normal for a while now. And the reality is that we won’t.

It’s not because we don’t have the will to do it or that we lack the resources. It’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has changed us. This past year and all of its uncertainty has brought to light things that we didn’t see as clearly before — about our society and likely, even about ourselves.

And as a result, there is a new normal. As we move toward a post-COVID world, our choices will clearly delineate the old normal from the new.

We’re never going back to normal. COVID-19 has changed us.

As I reflect about how this pivotal year in our lives has created a definitive moment of change and newness, it draws me, fittingly, to Easter.

The death and resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate move to a new normal. It was the most significant event in history. Easter, by design, was meant to change us so that we would never go back to the normal of sin and death. Easter, by design, was meant to make all things new.

For those first followers of Jesus, watching his crucifixion and death was a crushing defeat. The promise that Jesus offered them of a new way to live that was transformed by love, generosity, and hope came to a grinding halt when he was placed in that tomb.

Friday was full of grief and confusion, hopelessness and loss.

And then came Sunday.

Jesus wasn’t in the grave where he should have been. The two women who found the empty tomb were distraught and panicked. Not only had they lost the one they thought had come to make things new but now they couldn’t even mourn him properly.

And then a man appeared. Unsure and confused, they assumed he was the gardener until he revealed himself as Jesus — the one who was dead but had come back to life.

Jesus changed everything that Sunday morning. Jesus’ resurrection meant that everything could be different now. That life could overcome death; that hope could defeat despair; that love could destroy fear.

With this one act Jesus said all things can become new. We can be changed.

Easter means we never have to go back to normal.

Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at seeingbeyondccc@gmail.com.

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