We are living in a moment of ‘big change speeded up’

The prospect of a return to ‘normality’ is growing dimmer by the day

In every minute of today, somebody’s “normal” will end and won’t return. It might be for a positive reason such as starting a new job that brings new surroundings, new friends and new ways of behaving in the world; or it might be for a negative reason such as a diagnosis of a life-changing condition.

The loss of the normal world happens out of sight and out of mind for most of us: we don’t see the panic in the home of someone who has suddenly died.

On a societal level, though, we are having to get used to the loss of normality, if you can “get used” to such a thing. For two years, many have longed for their pre-pandemic “normal”. For some, the loss of a job, a business or of someone they loved meant they already knew they would not be returning to normal when this was all over.

But now the prospect of normality is growing dimmer by the day. We don’t know if Covid is about to disrupt our lives again. We don’t know if – an impossible thought only months ago – a nuclear conflict is looming (and the pace of change is such that by the time you read this you might know the answer).


Even without that awful possibility, we have no clue how we are going to adjust to conditions that could drastically alter our ability to heat our homes or to run our cars if Europe decides to leave Russian oil and gas in the ground. And we don't know how we and our fellow Europeans will adapt to the needs of huge numbers of people from Ukraine and how job markets and housing will adjust.

Even in simple matters of social behaviour, normality is changing. One person told me that when she finds people in a supermarket queue are standing too close she turns to them and says, “Would you mind moving back? I’m just recovering from Covid”. She’s not actually recovering from Covid but she wants to keep it that way.

Older people have done so much adjustment to new normals during their lifetimes that they are the real experts on this experience

One night recently when two visitors called both they and we laughingly acknowledged that we were not going to shake hands. I wondered if we are always going to feel that hesitation, that sense of unease about what used to be an expected social behaviour. Will social distancing become built into our interactions in ways that become invisible?

I heard somebody remarking last week that we are “half in and half out” when it comes to getting back to how we were – sorry, we’re all the way out and we’re not going all the way back.

By and large, I think this is all easier for older people to take. In spite of toxic stereotypes of being unable to adjust to new conditions, older people have done so much adjustment to new normals during their lifetimes that they are the real experts on this experience. The Ireland most of us who are older were born into bears little resemblance to the Ireland we live in today, yet most have managed to navigate the changes with agility and grace, including the changes they did not like.

What we are all going through now could be called “big change speeded up”. First we got a pandemic we didn’t expect. Then, treading on its heels, we got a war we didn’t expect. Next we need to adjust quickly to the needs of the new population generated by that war. I really hope I’m wrong, but I fear that those who fled may not see their homes for a long time, if at all. And then throw climate change on top of all that with its requirement that we upend our ways.

Eventually, some sort of new normal will develop. Meanwhile, we live between one upheaval and another.

Only one thing is for sure – the return to the old normal isn’t delayed. It’s dead.

Padraig O’Morain (Instagram, Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Kindfulness – a guide to self compassion; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com)