3/52 Normal

Beirut

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘normal’ in the last few weeks, as 2015 has been anything but.

Before, the word brought to mind something steady like a library, something sure like a train timetable, something satisfying like the store-cupboard soup I just made. All shades of brown, comforting like a chair that keeps your shape, even when you’re not there.

But now, I’m thinking again, and ‘normal’ is more like a slippery fish, darting like a salmon upstream, coming and going like the glimpses of rainbow that dance above a river.

‘Normal’ changes. Depending on where you stand, and whose shoes you stand in and how long you’ve been standing there.

What’s normal for me now, wasn’t three years ago.

I was reminded of this in Paris, where we happened to be on 7th and 8th January, coinciding with their totally abnormal ‘days of terror’. I realised later that although we were literally around the corner from it all, I hadn’t been terrified, and I didn’t even flinch, as my Paris-dwelling brother-in-law did, when we almost bumped into an armed policeman at a station, in fact I almost didn’t notice him.

I have Beirut to ‘thank’ for this. Here, men with guns, whether they are enforcing the law or on the run from it, are not abnormal, and slowly, one bout of ‘celebratory shooting’ at a time, they have changed my perception, my acceptance, of what is normal.

But it’s not just the guns, it’s something more subtle than that. It’s the awareness that we never really know if we are about to go into the wrong supermarket, or take the wrong train or walk around the wrong corner at just the wrong moment.

Beirut gave me this awareness, and I’m grateful for it, because instead of making me afraid it makes me get on with life, with more urgency and determination than ever before, whichever city I happen to be standing in.

 

3/52

New York

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It’s been a week far from normal. The two molars turned out to be a virus and for an entire week we lived in a kind of state of emergency at home. No more rules applied. Ice cream for lunch, ice cream for dinner. TV after lunch, before nap. Napping on the breasts. There were so many seemingly endless nights of waking up every hour, crying and whining that sent me banging my head on the wall claiming “I can’t do this anymore!”

Yet I did. On a particularly gray day I bought a bunch of tulips. During the worst tantrums and my most defeated moments I would stare at this corner of the room. Stare, breathe, stare, breathe. It was a source of calm and beauty, a representation of the normal which I so craved.

Then suddenly as quickly as sickness descended upon us it departed. In its absence our life has returned to normal. What a relief. We couldn’t believe it. Yesterday evening we saw the sky turning pink and went up to our roof to witness a sunset that was very different from the normal kind. It was in fact better than normal, it was magical.

Then it occurred to me that although in tough times we long for normalcy, it is in adversity that we learn, challenge and grow. It is in adversity we feel life with all its brutal forces. The days of normal melt into each other, but we will always remember the difficult days. The days we had to stay strong as a family to make it through. And that is pretty magical.

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