It is a hard truth to swallow but: There won’t be a return to “normal.” I would argue that much about our former life was actually abnormal—its frenetic pace, its inequalities, and its injustices.
Read: America is already different than it was two weeks ago
While we were quarantined in our homes, police invaded the home of Breonna Taylor, an EMT and essential worker, and shot her eight times.* A couple of months later, the pandemic still raging on, another police officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s and Taylor’s final breaths fanned the flames of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters nationwide and around the globe are risking their life to demand an end to police violence, because they have become maladjusted to black death.
In this movement, I see signs that parts of society are beginning to look more to the future and less to reclaiming an old way of life. In thinking about the tension between the past, the present, and the future, I have come to believe that the only way to move forward is to grieve the life we once knew, and to shift our mindsets to radical acceptance of our present reality in order to create a new normal that is better than our pre-pandemic life.
The term radical acceptance was coined by the psychologist Marsha Linehan. “Radical acceptance is an act of the total person that allows [acceptance] of ‘this moment,’ or of ‘this reality’ in this moment,” as she and her co-authors wrote in a chapter of their book Mindfulness and Acceptance. “It is without discrimination. In other words, one does not choose parts of reality to accept and parts to reject.”
I’m a public theologian who frequently speaks at conferences, universities, and churches. In talking with a friend recently about my work, I found myself painstakingly catching my words and rearranging them from present to past tense. The past tense has become a constant companion in the present moment, as every facet of my life has changed due to the pandemic. Mass gatherings such as conferences—my primary source of income—are foreclosed until social-distancing measures are lifted. Some scientists project that may not happen until 2022. That’s my reality.
I have formed a new ritual: Every day, I take to my laptop with my phone in hand, say a prayer, and call unemployment and log on to the website simultaneously, hoping to finally get through and join the 38 million unemployed Americans who have applied for benefits since March. Thus far, I’ve been unsuccessful. The fear that I may have to live like this for a year or more has sent me into a tailspin of profound uncertainty and self-doubt, which causes me to question my value. Like many, I have been socialized in the crucible of capitalism, which binds our worth to our production.
Yet my Christian faith teaches me that I am not what I produce. I am valuable because I am a human being endowed by God with intrinsic dignity and worth. I have found solace in that truth. My faith teaches me that my value is not contingent on my circumstances. Radical acceptance—which can be practiced regardless of one’s faith or worldview—is a complementary concept. It teaches me to release what I cannot control so that I can focus on what I can change.