Blog Post #36
1.conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
What do you consider to be “normal?”
People talk of leading a “normal life,” or wanting someone they know to behave in a more “normal way.” Who hasn’t heard someone say, “I’m just a normal person,” or “I just want (or like) to do normal things?”
I think it’s possible to explain normalcy to a point, but I think there’s a fine line separating what one person thinks is normal from what another person thinks. Maybe not even a fine line—maybe a giant firebreak sort of line, that won’t allow one person’s normal to leap over and infringe on, or burn, someone else’s normal.
This question of normalcy often arises early in a marriage. When Brad and I were first married over forty years ago, it was clear that what was normal to Brad was certainly not normal to me!
Since I was five years old, it was normal for me to get up and pull the covers up over the pillow, making the bed first thing in the morning. At a young age, I so liked the feeling I got tidying my room that by the time I was a teenager, I often made the bed for my mother, and sometimes my siblings. This practice spilled over into married life. As soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, I made the bed—provided, of course, that Brad wasn’t it in. Observing this routine for a week or so, Brad told me that it was normal in the home in which he was raised to pull back the covers to air the bed each morning, and he wanted to know why I didn’t do that. Feeling slightly defensive about my family’s normal, I told him that our mother expected us to make our beds first thing, and our sheets always smelled perfectly fine.
In this case, as in many others, my normal and his normal did not match. It was many months—possibly years—before we came to the realization that even though our ways of doing things were different, this didn’t make one more right than another. We just had different normals. Once we pulled back and aired out these kinds of issues (and there were many), a more normal atmosphere settled in our home.
A Normal Life
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they wish they could lead a “normal life.” Now, what exactly does that mean? The same principle that applies to the normal practices of making a bed or airing it out applies to normal lifestyles. There is a broad spectrum of what many would consider to be “leading a normal life.” For some people it is getting up and working a nine-to-five job every day. For others, it may mean putting in a couple of hours at work and the rest on a boat, or on the golf course. For many, it may mean caring full-time for a home and family. And for still others, it may mean jetting around the world taking pictures for NatGeo.
So when you say you want to lead a “more normal life” what do you mean? Do you mean you’re so famous, you can’t go anywhere or do anything without being recognized, mauled, and paparazzied, and you’d like to go back to pre-fame life and anonymity? (For most of us “normal” people, this isn’t the case.)
Does it mean you don’t want to be accountable to others anymore, and only do what you want to do? (If so, maybe you are an entrepreneurial sort of person and it’s time for a career change.)
Does it mean you’re tired of a certain type of drudgery? Or you feel trapped in a rut? (A lot of people fall into this category, making it a very normal place to be.)
It seems to me that the desire to lead “a more normal life” means you may desire some kind of a change, and in my estimation, change is never normal in the sense that change, by very definition, is a move away from what has been normal, or typical, or usual—even if that normal may have been undesirable. In this case, leading a more normal life may not be what someone would want. (If you followed this line of reasoning, give yourself a gold star.)
More Normal Behavior
And what of wanting others to behave in a more “normal way?” What does that mean? I’ve observed that it is normal for certain people to pursue a quiet, reserved lifestyle—staying under the radar, and liking it that way. It is also normal for certain other people to seek after the limelight—having a constant need to be noticed, applauded, or even censured—just so long as they are getting attention. And there are many who live a normal existence somewhere in between.
People who want others to behave in a more normal way are often parents. The people they usually want to behave more normally are often their children. Here are some samples of possible uses of the word “normal” that may set a parent up for trouble:
“Why can’t you wear your hair (or your clothes) like normal people?”
“That is NOT normal thinking!”
“If we could just have a normal conversation….”
“If you would just use a normal tone of voice….”
“Normal people don’t do that kind of thing….”
Inherent in each of these phrases is the large and looming misconception about how each individual defines the word “normal.”
Some people use the word “normal” and the phrase “classic example” from time to time to make a point. (I throw the phrase “classic example” in with the word “normal” because they are very much alike. A classic example is another way of saying something is not only “normal,” but “super normal.” These are go-to words when making comparisons between normal and the way-out notions, behaviors, and characteristics espoused by others.
The pendulum always seems to swing toward our own ideals when we are considering what is normal and what isn’t. And rightly so. Who out there wants to believe, or possibly admit, that their ideas about things are off-the-wall cuckoo? Or at the very least, abnormal?
I have learned that when people talk about things that are normal, not normal, or classic examples, they are frustrated with the changing world around them, and how those changes defy what is near and dear to them. This is a time for compassionate and empathetic listening, not censure—unless, of course, it is one’s own normal that has been challenged. Even then, it is wise to listen and try to understand, because we don’t always see ourselves through normal eyes. Sometimes, we view ourselves through tainted rosy glasses, or the sludge of insecurity or failure—making what we think is normal for us, really something that is not normal at all.
A Normal Person
I think when people say they’re just a “normal person” they are doing their best to fit their square peg of normalcy into the round hole of what they think others consider normal is. Each individual is just that—individual. Unique. Each has a slightly different way of looking at things than even those closest to them.
My sister, Karen, and I could finish one another’s sentences. We loved and understood each other: our hopes and dreams, our upbringing, our way of approaching things, and the many tiny little idiosyncrasies we had. BUT we were not one another’s “normal” at all. Normal for Karen was quite different from normal for me. The way she thought about certain aspects of life, the way she planned and lived her days, the clothes she wore, the food she ate, and many other things that were normal for her would have been very uncomfortable for me, and vice versa.
I suppose I’m just being knit-picky, but it seems to me that everybody’s normal depends upon them. And if that’s true, then there is no “true normal”—only a bazillion normals that suit the bazillion different personalities out there, or in other words, everybody’s normal is really something uncommon or rare.
Still, to be fair, when someone says they want to have a “normal life,” I understand what they’re saying. (I think.) When things have been anything but normal, when life has gone askew, when the world seems topsy-turvy, when every day is different, or the demands of life have become overwhelming, then what some of us long for is to go back to whatever it was we used to do, before we stepped from normal into abnormal. It may also mean that we long to be like everyone else, or what we think everyone else is like, since—as has already been established—everyone else has their own normal, and is therefore not “normal” as Google’s dictionary would have you believe.
“Normal” things give backbone to daily life. Routine is “normal.” Routine is a gift to someone who’s predictable life went suddenly awry. Some people thrive on the kind of adventure that involves Indiana Jones situations around every corner—where being on the edge of your seat (or the edge of your last nerve) every single moment of every single day is, well…normal. That’s not for me! I prefer a healthy portion of predictability, sprinkled with spontaneity, and a dash of surprise.
After recent upheaval, I ached to do normal (for me) things, such as wash a load of clothes, bake cookies, walk around the block, and sleep in my own bed. I dragged a bag of notepaper, books to read, food I liked to nibble on, and a script I was trying to memorize with me to the hospital and then the nursing home where my father was recuperating. I read to my father when he’d let me, and while he dozed or was distracted, I wrote dozens of notes, listened to the script via headphones, and read till my eyes grew tired. If you carry a little bit of normal with you, it helps, but there’s nothing like your own normal in your own space, in your own home, in your own daily routine.
While he was in the hospital and nursing home, my poor father was in a constant state of abnormal, and it took its toll, causing a bit of disorientation. I could understand this, which is why I spent so much time with him—to bring a little bit of “normal” to his bedside while he was in a state of terrible transition. Now that he’s home, things are definitely more normal, but not quite. We are learning a new normal, and it’s sometimes painful, but a necessary part of life. We are adjusting and adapting until the inevitable time when things will be jostled around again.
What I have concluded by all of this is that once one leaves their traditional normal for any length of time, one can never fully go back. Change is the byword of life. Some little thing will always be different…or perhaps some big thing.
The early Mormon pioneers knew much of upheaval and of frequent hankie waves bidding farewell to normalcy in their lives. Constantly forced to move from place to place, frequently driven from their homes and loved ones, they, at last, made their exodus across the plains to create a normal life according to their beliefs in the deserts of Utah. The story is told of one such Mormon pioneer woman, Bathsheba Smith. Her history tells that her husband…*“widened and heightened Bathsheba’s [covered] wagon substantially.” After he did this for her, she then…“carpeted the floor, put four chairs in the center in which to ride, and hung a looking glass, candlestick, and pincushion. Once, while fording a stream, Bathsheba’s awkward wagon threatened to wash downstream. Unruffled, she yelled, “Behold, Noah’s Ark!”
Why would she do this? I think she was doing her best to bring a feeling of permanence and normalcy to their ever-shifting lives by taking a portion of her home—her normal life—with them.
I heard the story of Bathsheba Smith forty years ago, and have never forgotten it. Her story is a reminder that you may choose to “bloom where you’re planted,” no matter how abnormal, or stressful, or difficult that may be.
I think that maybe there is no normal “normal.” Not really. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to make reference to things that are normal, and hope for normal times to come. In spite of the ambiguity of normalcy, I am determined to “bloom where I’m planted” –creating my own sense of “normal” no matter where I am, how difficult it may be, or how abnormal others may think I am.
Is this normal?
You be the judge.