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A breath, a possibility and a warning

Carlos Barón

Now that parts of the world are beginning to tentatively stick their heads out of their windows, trying to fathom which way the viral wind blows, it might be good to ponder how, when and why will we return to the recent past. That which we called “the normal.” 

A question first: Do we really want to get back to that? That “normal?”

Over time and by contemplating shared experiences, many among us have come to believe that the recently interrupted normalcy is really the cause of the havoc. 

Going back to it is not a return to paradise. Make America “normal” again?

What about alternatives? To start, I believe that Mother Earth is letting the world  take a breather. Why not do it? We certainly need it.

Breathing is a very compelling first option. Especially when us humans have been running breathlessly wild towards a destructive abyss. 

So, let us breathe. Not just us, humans. Mother Earth is creating this possibility because she also needs breathing. Not a beating, as she gets in normal times.

Now that we can gaze up to the skies and see blue, instead of polluted grey.

Now that many among us truly believe that we are beginning to understand the singing of birds. Or the routines of squirrels. Or the singing of the salamanquesa lizards of Veracruz.

Illustration: Alexis Terrazas

Now that bird songs can actually be heard in the absence of the previous human cacophony, while coyotes freely roam our streets and hop on our roofs. 

Now when pumas and condors come down from the skies and the mountains of Chile and California to visit their past habitats. 

Now that we are given the chance to think (a luxury, for many) and perhaps begin to appreciate how difficult it is to be a good teacher to our kids, or how much society depends on the “invisible” workers, those who help us to redefine the meaning of essential, can we take some of those experiences back to our possible new normal? 

How about learning to share the Earth?

There lies the possibility of a new, improved new normal. In the word sharing. Also in another oldie but goodie: the word solidarity. To share. In solidarity.

Most of us obediently and wisely stay in our houses, braving the onslaught of this pandemic wave in relative comfort. 

But we are social beings. Some more than others. We need to exchange looks, touch, ideas, move around, follow our routines. We need to get out! This sudden impasse, when we simply let go of the reins and get off our collective horses, can take a toll on our collective minds. 

Nevertheless, those of us who can do it, have a task. The task to imagine, to define and to embrace a new normal. There lies the possibility. More than the possibility, the absolute necessity. For our collective survival. 

Just a few days ago, a former student from San Francisco State University, my now friend and fellow actress Lourdes Alarcón, who is a cultural activist and mother of two wonderful kids, wrote on social media: “Normality was nothing if not social injustice. Work, work, work, yet still unable to afford rent, lacking health insurance, eating rice and beans, beans and rice. That was our Latino reality! We definitely need a change. We cannot go back to that normality.”

I quote Lourdes because her words resonate in a very real way with me. Perhaps it is easier to wax poetic about these current circumstances. Poetry, music, theater, dancing, apparently non-essential activities in our consumeristic society, suddenly appear as true allies in our longing for positive outcomes. But “rice and beans” surely resonate louder. 

Because the words sharing and solidarity make yet another tentative entrance onto the world stage, we need a warning: they will be fought against. 

They will be resisted in the name of a normality which no longer fits our collective needs.

Sharing and Solidarity have not just been here before. In fact, they never left us. 

Nevertheless, they have been scorned, their importance minimized, their proponents attacked, ridiculed, burned at stake. The country of “the American Dream” suspects, fears and rejects the dreamers. 

Many before have said it: to see the American Dream, you need to be asleep! Let’s wake up and smell the brewing of a new reality.

The controllers of “The old normal” will not relent. Even now, in the midst of a world emergency, they want you to die for the economy, they plot military coups, they add millions to their coffers, they rally their supporters in defense of “our way of life” and many confused workers respond, armed to the teeth. 

Ignorance begets fear, fear begets violence. An old, proven formula. 

In a “skin-deep society,” that formula works even better!

Now that we perhaps glimpse, or redefine the meaning of essential as in essential workers, like nurses, farmworkers, garbage collectors, teachers, the working class in general, we must also promote dialogue. Confrontations, armed or otherwise, should be avoided. As much as possible, collaboration should be encouraged. Sharing, in solidarity. A universal common purpose should be the key. Hope should bathe our common goals.

Nevertheless, a final warning is needed: while many of us are sharpening our pencils, many others are sharpening their knives. 

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