May 5, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Is It Time to Accept a New Normal?

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While I shuffled potential courses for the fall on a spreadsheet — a delicate balancing act that marks the end of term — I couldn’t help but wonder what fall might actually look like. Come autumn, will we pack our bags and return to bucolic Ithaca? Or will classes be relegated to the realm of the virtual, akin to how they are now? A sense of dread started to collect at the top of my gut, and trickle down to its lower layers. None of us want it, but are we prepared for another term of social distancing, of zoom calls and caution?

In the 70s, the emergence of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis was fraught with emotions similar to those we are seeing today — anxiety and the fear of the unknown. The government took its standard, “we can’t comment before we have all the information” line. Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66,  the COVID-19 task force Tzar, was one of those officials. In a recent profile in the New Yorker, Fauci mentioned his actions at the time as a blot in his career.

But then, something changed; rather, people’s attitudes changed. People accepted this new reality and sought to move forward. Fauci broke with the government and started to collaborate with those who were the most affected by the endemic — his sense of decency overwhelmed his compulsion to follow dogma. He adapted to the new reality. This, like many before it and many yet to come, marks an inflection point in our history. Medical workers switched to disposable syringes, doctors changed their gloves after every examination — we learned from our experiences and accepted the new normal.

It is time for us to accept our new normal. COVID-19 is another similar inflection point in our history, and some things will never be the same again. Humans are stubborn creatures; we endeavor to shape our surroundings into familiar forms because that is where we are most comfortable. But some things, like this new plague, are beyond our control. We may attempt to contain it, but life will find a way.

Albert Camus wrote that “there have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” Maybe it’s time we stopped conflating familiarity with normalcy and accept that, now, new is normal.



Ritwick Sinha is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.