Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Normal - an endangered species

I used to consider 'normal' an insult. Normal was mundane and shallow, boring. Normal meant you were ordinary, and worse - nothing special.  If you were 'normal', I imagined a life of the living dead, floating mindlessly through life blending in with the scenery.  And what is 'normal' anyway? Who gets to decide?

I think it's Them. Them - that anonymous omnipresent Them who dictate what's cool, who's popular, what we 'should' be doing, how we should think and believe. They set the standards of normal. Normal is a 9-5 job, coming home to a spouse and 2.5 kids with the dog underfoot and a peeling white picket fence.  They sip wine with dinner and fall asleep in front of the TV. Normal ones are satisfied with the status quo, go home for the holidays, meet after work for a drink. They smile politely while they make small talk without being distracted by self-consciousness or the worry of things left to do on the daily list. Normal is summer vacations and meatloaf with mashed potatoes. They watch the news and know how to find Cuba on a map. Normal means high school reunions and friends who knew you when. Normal is avoiding making waves, smiling for the camera and graduating from the same high school that you started at. Normal doesn't include therapy, divorce, 'finding yourself', rallies, underground newspapers or random piercings. Normal excludes library obsessions and refrigerators organized by type and color. It steers clear of diagnostic codes and daily medications, and embraces a stiff upper lip. 

I have yet to meet anyone who is normal. 

Sure, upon first glance, there's the girl who was a cheerleader in high school, majored in kissing in college, pushes her kids on the swings on a sunny fall day before coming home to greet her husband at the door and settle in to watch a movie before bed. There's the boy who went to medical school and joined his father's practice, who always remembers birthdays and doesn't understand why addicts can't just pull it together.  I suppose they're out there - although it sounds like a description of a 1950's family on TV.  But even the ones that I would first label 'normal' turn out to just have a better closet lock to keep the skeletons contained.

I couldn't understand how normal could be a good thing - not that I’ve ever been called normal, so there really hasn't been ample opportunity to test out my theory that it'd be insulting.

If this is what They call 'normal', then it sounds to me like normal is extinct. That is if it even did ever exist. Perhaps normal went the way of the unicorn or it's an urban legend of some mythical normal community.

Using this working definition of normal, I did my best to avoid it at every turn.  I'll show you normal - beat three high schools, graduating as the only Jew at a Southern Baptist university, random life hiatus and ample opportunities to use the phrase 'this is just another growth opportunity rather than a crises'. No? I win - least normal of the bunch. 

Like I said, normal is so passé. It's those idiosyncrasies, the lumpy parts and black holes in the journey that make us interesting.  Rather than dysfunction or failures, we'll call them 'quirks'.  All of those freckles that make you different from me - the individual swaggers we adopt as we combat life's missiles and tango with the blessings.

I say it's time that Webster’s dictionary amends the definition.  Normal would be married, divorced, single, living in a tree.  Normal is to cry in the car or hum with the muzack in the elevator. Normal has a therapist, a parent, a friend, and a dog to talk to. (I'm afraid if the dog talks back, we might have to choose a different word.) Normal means trying and failing, trying and succeeding, trying and failing again. Normal is taking risks and laughing as you brush your tush off when you fall on your ass. Normal is making friends in kindergarten, at the grocery store, waiting for the plane to take off. Normal means being silly, irritable, jealous, joyous, angry or soulful. Normal is feeling all of the above simultaneously and getting so overwhelmed that the best solution is taking a nap. 

Normal includes doubts, includes faith, includes doubting your faith.  Normal stands on tippy toes stretching towards adulthood while dragging a stuffed animal behind you. Normal means having fears, having dreams, having fears about your dreams coming true.  Normal has struggles, has 'issues', has baggage, and has second and third and fiftieth chances. Normal is loving and laughing and longing. Normal is deep enough to allow for mistakes and salty enough to float you to the surface. Normal means disappointing those you love and learning that nobody, including you, can be perfect and that trying to be will kill you - either physically or spiritually.  Normal contains days that are ordinary, where you find out that undramatic, uneventful days are rare enough to be treasured. These kinds of days aren't boring like I thought - they're serene.  Normal also consists of days spent waiting for the sky to fall and having people who can hold your hand while you fret about which photos to save from the fire.

If this is the new Normal, then I proudly have become one of Them.  If this is Normal, then I accept your compliment and hold out my hand, waiting for you to join us.

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