The phrase “adjusting to the new normal” is a part of everyone’s life in one way or another, especially given our current global circumstances. Many in my circle are adjusting to facemasks, keeping physical distance (no friends/family meetups for months), constantly using hand sanitizers, cleaning surfaces at every turn/or use, ordering groceries online instead of going into stores, experimenting with all sorts of food recipes at home – breads galore, doing occasional pick-ups to support local restaurants, returning back to work with all the multiple safety measures in place, etc. etc. The list of what one should do can appear exhausting and without any light to hint at where the path/tunnel is let alone where it might end. It gets even more confusing when there is an abundance of mis-information, and deciphering out what is right and what should definitely be a no-no is all muddled up – sitting under a pile of all the other “must do’s” and “have-to-figure-it-outs.” This piece is just one snippet of a graduate student’s life.
There are many more gut-wrenching truths that the pandemic has brought to everyone’s surface; it has highlighted the myriad problems that exist in our systems globally and at every level. In the US, we have witnessed many horrifying deaths of innocent black lives, injustices faced by natives, mind-boggling rules against immigrants, cruel disregard towards lives of others and deeming such acts as a constitutional right. Sadly, this list goes on. Across the world, we have seen city closures so ill-planned that people are forced into the streets starving. We all have seen a severe lack of proper healthcare infrastructure and planning to combat the pandemic. It feels like wherever one turns to there are so many things that are clearly wrong, and they continue to stay wrong. I am still learning and figuring out how to take a positive and constructive stance on such critical issues. Right now, the only take I strongly hold is that we need to treat every human being with dignity and respect. There should be no room or allowance for mistreatment of others for some personal ego boost or the false belief that self is better than the rest. We need to do better as a community to ensure everyone feels safe, feel that they have a voice, and that people have mechanisms to access correct information in this age of information overload. I honestly right now don’t know what I should do to ensure all this, but I am going to work to get to that point. I am going to start by educating myself on all these matters that we collectively face.
Educating myself and trying to do better – this thought is my adjustment to normal over the years. I have previously, naively believed if I didn’t bother people and if I respected people, then I was doing OK. The religious upbringing I grew up with taught me that if you see a wrong there are three ways to approach it. The best way is to fix it by action, second best to voice out against it, third best is to believe in your heart of hearts that it is a clear wrong and make sure you don’t ever fall into doing it yourself. Up until high school I think I followed the first two, by action or by active voice against whatever my young self felt was wrong. Then upon migrating, and enveloped in the fear almost all outsiders face, I settled with number three. Maybe, falling into this third way was initially also a personal thing. I didn’t feel like I fit in or that I belonged, and so I didn’t want to make noise in a place that I wasn’t going to be in for long. Like most foreigners, I believed I would definitely go back home because the bubble of what I thought the US is burst soon after I got here. Only after a few years, and through identification of where I could finally fit, I was following number three purely out of fear. Fear that if I did something, it might either not be safe or it might affect my chances of being able to settle here permanently, and that would jeopardize the career and life I had begun to love. This was the normal I lived in for years.
The same way in which the “self” matures, the normal around me appears to constantly change, and I need to constantly adjust it to stay afloat. My dadiya (dad) would always tell me “Change is the only thing that is constant.” It was also to some degree his way of also comforting himself, because we both know how hard of a time each one of us has with change. My mommiya (mom) changing home décor after I got back from school used to be painful. Aside from that, my mommiya’s strength in the face of all challenges in life is inspirational to me. Her patience and understanding for my outside the typical lifestyle (for a desi girl) is my source of strength. When I started research, it was the first time I began to feel like I can have a home somewhere. Doing internships, working in a lab, and starting a PhD allowed me to dream about doing what I enjoyed. The reason it felt more special was because it got me excited about the thought of having my family together in one place eventually. However, like all sudden twists in life, this normal didn’t last very long. My dadiya very unexpectedly and suddenly passed away, while I tried to figure out my complicated visa situation.
There are many different facets to one’s life. While a part of me was starting to feel happy doing research and get excited about eventually going home and seeing all my family together. There was also another part of me that felt some days were just heavier. I felt stuck and I missed going home to my dadiya. When I first felt that my unconscious response was to separate myself from these emotions, and to keep myself busy to the point that I couldn’t think about them. But once I realized what I was doing, I started talking more about them instead. My dadiya and I would often talk about things we would do together when we met. Things that people take for granted – have a morning tea on the balcony, eat a meal together, whine about the same weather, go grab a coffee, go for a walk, and maybe on that walk go check out the library for our shared loved of all things written. When he suddenly passed away, it got really difficult to accept anything as normal. Figuring out how to adjust seemed just too unrealistic. I could write a whole journal on the moments after, and how they never truly end. I could talk about my guilt of wanting to keep my current life intact instead of being there with him in his last moments. I could talk about how my family never quite recovered, and how we keep a count almost of all the things he’s missing out on. I could talk about how staying home in this pandemic forced me to confront my reality and find my space. But it’s important to realize that while we cannot control many things in life that are painful and that hurt, there are some that we can: We can choose to care for each other, choose to respect each other. Choose to allow this fear of darkness/uncertainty to engulf us or we can stand our ground holding each other strong through these times.
Everyone is always adjusting to a new normal at some level, today we are in a time where we all collectively have to adjust to a new normal for a tomorrow that is there and for one that is safe for us all. We can all do our part. We must do our part!