Returning to “normal” in New Mexico has been like awakening from a long-held dream: the masks come off, revealing faces I had never before glimpsed; tactility and motion reemerge, acquainting me with senses I had forgotten. Prior to this dream, there was a dream in which I seemed to be an entirely different person; between the two, there was an extended nightmare in which I might have been asleep without dreaming. In this new dream of “normality,” the question becomes: who am I?
When the pandemic began, I was finishing up my Masters program in Curriculum and Instruction while living in Wisconsin. I was engaged to be married, and my life plan involved having several children over the next several years; continuing on to a PhD program and becoming a professor; and potentially never leaving Wisconsin.
Checking in with my body, I felt an intuitive lack of fear around the virus, so when I took my and my fiancée’s dog for walks, grocery shopped, etc, I did so without a mask. (At the time I lived there, Wisconsin was a state without a mask mandate.) Standing in the grocery store checkout line once while the clerk scanned my items, the clerk observed how calm I seemed and said to me, “That attitude will keep the virus away!”
Coming home to New Mexico, I encountered a world much more serious about these issues, and I was forced to wear a mask in public spaces, gauge my temperature upon entering businesses, sanitize my hands while rock-climbing, etc. As I undertook these precautions, I found that the innate intuition that had told me not to fear the virus became stanched; wearing a mask, it is almost as though my body’s voice was silenced; conducting my spiritual and other endeavors through a computer screen rather than in person, it is almost as though I became desensitized to my own third eye, unable to discern important truths about both the present and the future. Throughout the portion of the pandemic year that I spent in New Mexico, I felt like a man forcibly and incrementally blinded, dragged through some tunnel against my will.
As “normal” has begun to peek back out these past few months, an emotion I have frequently met is anger. Deep within me, there is a voice that says if only I had been able to follow my intuition this whole time rather than that intuition’s being quelled, I would still be with my ex-fiancee; I would still be living in Wisconsin, still in graduate school, still embarking upon an entire trajectory that has been relegated to dream. In a word, this voice tells me that the course of events which has taken place is somehow wrong.
This perspective has to do with my sense of what God is, something intimately bound up with my intuition. When I get acquainted with my body and perceive truths from my heart and gut, I believe that I encounter things outside my mind’s control; these are truths placed there by some force larger than myself, the same logic which bore and births our universe. In intimacy with this logic, I stand a chance of doing what I am “meant” to do, thereby fulfilling my purpose in life; in this way, I synchronize my will with that of the God which has created this universe.
For all these reasons, when I cannot feel that will—when I feel, as it were, both blinded and silenced—I feel that something has been taken away from me, and that it is the very thing which, for me, grants my life meaning. More than that: it is what helps me, as a being, perform my role in validating existence, perceiving, honoring, and dutifully acting within the heaven on earth which God has created. When I feel that this has been taken away from me, I feel that humanity as a whole is performing a slight against God, and that our substitute reality is blasphemous.
Stepping into the “new” reality in which I, too, am a new person, I have begun to mull over these questions and to rejoinder them with a deeper knowing, a form of counsel that perhaps is my own way of providing relief for that long, weird, tunneling year that was the year of Covid.
For one, do I honestly believe that there is a difference between what God wills and what humans will? Do I honestly believe that God intended one path for us, and human intervention through Coronavirus effected another? If I believe that, then I believe that the two wills are commensurate, and that human will is strong enough that it is capable of besting the divine. To me, this attitude in itself is one of faithlessness: it is a superimposition of the human above the Godly, the belief that it is even possible for things to happen which God did not intend.
My second rejoinder to myself has to do with faith. During the year of Covid, I felt that my personal, preferred route to God was severed, that the embodied intuition with which I navigate my life was rendered impossible. Well, suppose I brought that metaphor forth to a literal conclusion? Suppose that instead of being forced to wear a mask, my tongue was literally cut from my body; suppose that instead of conducting my life through the deadening visage of the screen, my eyes were literally gouged out and I stricken blind? Well, being then unable to anticipate my life or to vocalize desires within it, would that mean that my life was without intention, without God? Instead, wouldn’t it mean that an even deeper faith was being actualized, a faith without participation? Suppose I do not know what is happening in my life, or why—both of which statements are very often the case; does that necessarily denote that there is no meaning?
These questions bring me to the one with which I opened this essay, which is who I am in this new dream, the dream of myself that coincides with New Mexico’s return to “normal.” Am I defined by the absences of what was, as a man without a partner, a clear trajectory through life, a preconceived home? Alternately, am I defined by my hopes of those things’ hypothetical realization, as a man still in search of a partner, etc? Grasping for mooring in this new normal, what other self-definitions might I hazard?
It is only with my recently-developing attitude toward faith, one cultivated by my year of involuntary blindness, that a different answer presents itself: I am nobody. I do not need to be able to see where I am going or to name it in order to legitimate that path, nor to believe that God still guides me; reality does not require my understanding in order to reach its beautiful, sacred conclusion.
And so I am carried backward into tomorrow.