Monthly Archives: March 2009

The New Normal

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Talking with my good friend Dawn on the phone last week, I asked how everything was going. She hesitated, then said, “Well, it’s the new normal.” I understood exactly what she meant.

Everyone with a job was still employed. No one previously healthy had been diagnosed with anything. Our friends were carrying on, the children were doing well, and the delicately balanced scales of fortune still weighed slightly in our favor. Gone was the former assumption that our situation might improve any day. Instead, we were thankful that nothing was collapsing, and tenuously hoped for the same to be true next week, as well.

During the old normal, it was hard not to be affected by the constant selling of opportunities. Even if you were basically content with what you had, you couldn’t help feeling like a fool sometimes for not taking advantage of cheap money, cheap goods, and all the rest. Like trying to sleep with a 24-hour drum circle going on next door, even earplugs only work for so long. And while a few may have packed up and moved farther away, many of us eventually got a djembe and joined in to some extent. 

It is a relief for it all to be over, a relief to be free of that particular drone in the background. Granted, this is a very small bright spot in the unfolding bleakness of the new normal, but part of the new normal is appreciating any little bright spots we can find. 

My parents were both children of the Depression, and they raised their family with a frugality that would not budge, even for beneficial financial moves that entailed very little risk. They didn’t fully trust any investment that was not an obvious commodity: a house, a retirement account, stocks.

I am glad to have their practicality and their instinct for making do with less, yet I am also very glad to understand the financial ins and outs of our current economic crisis. One of the most valuable assets in the new normal is information: the more we understand what is happening, the better we will be at reading the signs of what is to come.

That is why I was so grateful for Dawn’s comment. I knew things were changing, but hadn’t put it all together as a fundamental shift in expectations. Some of the changes I am grateful for, some are quite difficult. Still, having a name for what we are experiencing puts us that much closer to managing it, bearing with it, and eventually watching it fade away as yet another normal comes to take its place.