I keep hearing people talk about arriving at a “new normal.” As if the circumstances we are in have already achieved this milestone when we are neck-deep in the shifting sands of uncertainty, vulnerability, and fear. We might have one day that feels like it might be a little bit normal only to have the next day blown up by some event in the world or right at home.

As I have heard this term repeated, I have tried to understand why it gets on my nerves. I think first it feels contrived. Just as the word “closure” feels contrived after a death. People have often asked me if I feel closure about the losses I have experienced. I can safely say that closure has not been a destination to which I have arrived after the deaths of family members. I still miss and long for my sister and parents. I feel sadness some days that is as sharp as it was in the beginning. And I feel the sense of loss that time brings too – the kind that means I cannot recall the sound of my mother’s voice or my dad’s laugh.

I think that is how the expression “new normal” feels to me. As if there is some destination I should be reaching even as the circumstances in our communities continue to shift and change. New information is available almost daily about the spread of COVID19. Experts do not know what will happen as this pandemic unfolds. Now, economic implications are becoming urgently clear. So, no, it does not feel to me like we are even close to a “new normal.”

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Buzz Words

As I pondered all this I began to think of my experience as a beekeeper. I kept bees for more than six years. I can safely say that there were never really “normal” circumstances in the practice of beekeeping. In fact, what I came to understand is that beekeeping is an agricultural endeavor that is affected by many factors. Most of these factors are outside the beekeeper’s control.

Weather, for instance, can wreak havoc on a beehive. In a too cold winter, a hive can totally freeze and die. Or in a too hot summer, without enough rain, the nectar flow in blossoms can dry up and the hive can starve. In a too wet summer when everything is blooming because it’s raining a lot, the blossoms don’t have time to produce nectar between each rainfall. Bees find themselves searching high and low for the nectar they need. Of course, wildlife can be a factor too. In areas of the country where there are bears, hives are subject to raids for their honey. Field mice in any area will try to nest in a hive for the winter months. After all who does not want a sweet food supply for cold days.

All these examples remind me that there is no “normal” in beekeeping or in agricultural endeavors in general. We would like to believe we are in control enough to manage these conditions but the unexpected is always just around the corner. While we may do as much as we can to create the best conditions for the things we grow or cultivate, sometimes that is not enough. Crops or beehives will still fail. Scientists are working furiously to find a vaccination, to manage the flow of information coming in from other countries or to figure out the most efficient means of testing people. Hospitals and medical professionals are working furiously to save lives. And yet, none of these things offer a sense of normal in the face of these unwieldy circumstances.

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Instead, I think we have an opportunity to be more like a beekeeper. To stay curious about what is happening inside the hive and out. To observe with care the circumstances in which the hive is based and try to create safety, health, and wellbeing as much as possible. And, to recognize that like keeping bees, staying safe in these times means taking into consideration lots of variables, assessing risks and making the best decisions we can with what we know. And of course, steadfastly wearing protective gear in order to stay safe for others and ourselves. It is not easy.

What Next?

Beyond what might be defined as “new normal,” I have been reflecting on what I envision for myself in the coming months. I want to let this experience speak to me. I want to live with more empathy, compassion, and care for the world. The question I have come to is: How can I lessen the load of others today?

What about you? Are there questions coming to you about what is next? What is this experience of living in a pandemic teaching you?

Want to be more like a beekeeper? This short video will teach you the beginning steps of starting and setting up a hive.