It somehow feels wrong to feel normal.
I know. “Normal” exists on the washing machine, not in the world. If the last few years haven’t proved that, I don’t know what will, between pandemics, protests, wildfires and … well, you don’t need the litany from me. We’ve all lived it.
And now we have a war half a world away. Demanding attention. Stirring up its own bizarre mix of feelings.
Part of mine come from old memories – those of my generation and my parents’ – of the old Cold War flare-ups. Like a standoff in a room full of nitroglycerin, you had to wonder if any sudden move would have devastating results.
Part of it is the same helpless feeling I get in the wake of another school shooting, where the alarm keeps going off with no clear way to answer the call.
On top of it all sits the clash, the collision between peril and mundanity. The little voice that whispers about how frivolous, even silly some of my thoughts and activities are. Maybe you’ve heard it too: “How can you even bother doing (x) at a time like this? Don’t you know what’s going on in the world?”
If so, take heart. You may be doing more than the voice knows.
I’m not advocating a callous denial of reality. The world doesn’t need another Nero fiddling while the world burns, or a Scarlett O’Hara complaining about how war is ruining her social life. It’s not about locking out another’s pain to make yourself feel better.
But we’re complicated beings. We’re capable of attending to more than one thing at a time. And when we turn to something that doesn’t have to do with either a crisis or a day-to-day need, it’s not necessarily because we don’t care.
Many times, it’s a release. One acquaintance of mine dances in times of stress. Others turn to music, or to books, or to a mile-long walk to free the anxiety that has nowhere else to go. Engines can’t run hot all the time, and the soul needs cooling down and maintenance just as much.
Sometimes it even goes beyond that. It becomes transformative, channeling the fear and anxiety and anguished hope into something that lifts up instead of presses down.
One of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, took this above and beyond. A veteran of World War I, he mingled old battlefield horrors with his love of language and nature to produce a mythology that’s still giving people hope, inspiration and release today.
Naturally, he also had his “times like these “critics – after all, with so many real problems to address, why waste time on fantasy? His pointed response was that “Escape” could be a virtue … except, maybe, in the eyes of jailers.
“Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” Tolkien noted in a lecture. “Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.”
Regeneration. Transformation. Hope. These become especially vital in hard times – not in denial of them, but to better grapple with and endure them.
Don’t turn away. But don’t fear the ordinary, either. It doesn’t have to be a dereliction of duty. It might even be just the thing to make you readier than ever.
Even in times like these.