Returning to normal

With the news coming fast that the time for a “return to normal” is approaching those living in the United States, and those here in Hawaii, it’s probably time to provide a little insight as to what we are looking at and what this return may play out. 

As some know who read this blog, my life has seen me live in other countries besides America, with at least three years living in Asia and a lot of time on the road beside. For those who are posted to live overseas for an extended period (like say longer than 3 months) returning home after experiencing another part of the world can be either be a bit abnormal or downright disturbing, depending on your mental acuity. 

Its this concern of how a person will return home the reason why more established churches that have missionary outreach programs periodically have their members “in the field” come home for a sabbatical (sometimes as long as a year) so that they can continue to keep a grip on reality in the place they call home.  

Belfast - Letter Box
Diplomats, missionaries and private business employees, assigned to overseas posts, sometimes have a hard time coming home due to the adaptation of their life to the new “normal” of the foreign post.
PC: “Belfast – Letter Box” by infomatique is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

However, and this happens to many in the private sector, they may not return to their home country for years, only after retirement or the complete raising of children to the time they graduate from high school and go off to college. 

The return to a person’s home country can depend on length, create a situation where the person experiences what is known as “reverse culture shock”. 

EVEN THE US STATE DEPARTMENT recognizes this issue and has a complete brief on the concept at its website. At its core, it is defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.“ Except, in this case, the disorientation comes when you return to your home country, home state, home town, etc., and attempt to “pick up where you left off” when you left for your foreign assignment. 

Because one, after a period of disorientation when entering a new, foreign area, people after a while get used to their surroundings and social/government rules that are part of the place. These experiences become part of one’s identity, adding to the matrix of a person’s persona like how a computer uploads a new program, overwriting certain parts with new code. 

EQUIVOCATING THIS with our current situation with the COVID-19 saga, we as humans have been through at least 14 months of change in many parts of life. From how we interact with each other, to where and what we eat and how we even approach working in this world, the rules which we live by at this very moment are pretty different than what we were doing in the middle of March 2020. 

And for a bit of time, especially during the first part of 2021, a general sense of re-angling to a “new normal” seemed to have taken hold. From wearing masks and staying six feet away from each other, while we didn’t like the rules it seemed that this was going to be the rules to live by. Considering that we at that point didn’t know if the vaccines that were developed would work, there seemed to be a realization that this was the way things would be, and we better get to work living in this world. 

As mentioned before, getting used to a new way of life outside of what you lived before programs the life matrix of people in ways that change them, in some ways evolving them into another level of behavior, of thinking, and of doing things. In many ways, the COVID saga did just that to the population of the world. 

AND NOW we are being told that the saga might be over. As this is written, letters are going out from employers informing employees that they should plan to return to the office and that social norms that were created to address the crisis will be rescinded with a timeline to match. 

With the news coming out of this, all one needs to do is go on social media to see how widespread people’s opinions are of this development. Some are enthusiastic, never seeing the event as a permanent thing and never allowing the changes to change them. 

But for some, the situation, changes in rules, and cultural changes have done more permanent changes to a person’s life matrix, and going back “to normal” will not be an easy road to go down. 

Just like the overseas American that returns home, many in their own country through this will experience similar things as we re-emerge our social lives to a pre-pandemic state. This is even visualized in the State Department’s wide-ranging discussion of this phenomenon 

Image courtesy of John & Jeanne Gullahorn
The roller coaster to normality, both going into new things and returning back to the old
PC: U.S. Department of State Website

Among the points made in the State Department brief, one point to be made here is the fact that a successful “reintegration” is done when proper closure is conducted. An improper “goodbye” to those things you are leaving does make it harder to “accept the new home” that you’re going to. 

In this case, the new home is the old home we all abandoned around the middle of March 2020. 

While it might seem terrifying to some reading this, that we are going to return home now, and we don’t have a lot of choice on the matter, the fact remains that change is coming again, and it might be best that we get ready for it. 

For those who have been through this before, missionaries, those who worked overseas and lived there for long periods, this experience may seem more familiar. For this humble writer, the book on “reintegration” got dusted off when it was realized that this was not a permanent event and that there would be a call to “return home” if you will. 

The timeline for this reintegration, by experience, can take anywhere from six months to a year. For this event, it might be less, as mental health practitioners are beginning to ramp up to address this need moving forward.

But change, reverting to an older set of social and cultural rules, is coming, whether we are ready for it, or not.