Return to “normal”

With kids returning to school in NSW this week, Mark Stephens reflects on what it is that makes that such a big deal.

The word “normal” has taken quite a hammering this past two years. That simple noun, once thought prosaic, has morphed into something mythical, even utopian. We’re all just longing for normal. Forget Paradise. All I want is 2019.

Yesterday I read a story of how Sydney and Melbourne uni students were still hanging out with their high school friends. I mean, what else are you going to do? Forming friendships over Zoom is like English soccer winning the World Cup – possible, yet highly improbable.

The rich joy of friendship should never be taken for granted. In E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur asks Charlotte why she has sacrificed so much for him, when he’d never done anything for her. “You have been my friend,” replies Charlotte, “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

Located in Sydney as I am, 3 of my children returned to their school campus yesterday after four months away. Schoolkids have become the Dow Jones index of normality. If school is closed, we’ve hit rock bottom, but face to face learning gives hope a sporting chance.

As I asked each last night about first day back, the common thread was friendship. It was homecoming because their friends were there. Other people made it good. Very good. As the inimitable Mr Rogers said: “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”