The lady cornered me after I spoke to her church group. “I have a question,” she said. “You’re on the news. Maybe you know the answer.”
“I’ll try,” I replied. “What’s your question?”
She asked, “When will it be normal again?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Are you asking about anything in particular?”
“Everything,” she said. “Will it ever get back to how it used to be?”
She pointed out many things that now seemed “out of whack.”
We talked about aging. “I’m retired,” she said. “You look forward to it all your life, and then it’s here. I used to go places, and get invited to things. But now, younger people look right through me, like I don’t even exist. I miss being involved. That’s just not normal for me.”
She continued. “I used to watch TV to get my news. They reported it right down the middle. Why won’t they do that anymore?” she asked.
I shared my frustrations on the state of TV news, especially on the national level. “You just have to be choosy,” I told her. “Some networks lean to the left, and others lean to the right,” I explained. I told her that some opinionated hosts masquerade as journalists, and it is up to us to learn the difference. “I don’t have time for that,” she said. “I just wish it would go back to normal.”
“And when it comes to TV shows,” she said, “I miss the days when I could watch Carol Burnett and Tim Conway, and they would make me laugh. Why can’t they do shows like that now?” she asked. I told her there were more choices than ever, with much of it still on free, over-the-air TV. “I can’t pick them up where I live,” she said. “I used to, before y’all made the (digital) change. I liked it better when it was normal.”
I didn’t try to explain Hulu, Netflix, and all the others. She was in no mood for a 2018 TV tutorial, and I barely understand “the new normal” myself.
“I just heard Sears is closing,” she said. “I feel like I’m losing another friend. Are the stores ever going to get back to normal?” she asked. I had to be honest. “It doesn’t look that way,” I said.
She was concerned about crime too. She shook her head and said, “We’ve had to hire security while we’re having church. And people are even stealing from our mailboxes. My neighbor just got a security mailbox, with a lock.” I had to agree with her. That’s not normal.
“Plus there’s all the stuff going on in the world,” she said. “Reporters are yelling at Trump, and Trump is yelling at reporters. It’s like the country is torn in half. I don’t know who’s at fault, but will it get back to normal for the next president?”
I wondered if history would provide any answers. After all, we’ve had some open wounds before. During the peak of the Depression, Americans were frustrated with the Herbert Hoover administration, so they sent Franklin D. Roosevelt to the White House to oversee a recovery, and later a massive war effort.
In the 1960s, protests over civil rights and Vietnam tore the country apart, making an old man out of Lyndon Johnson before his time.
A few years later, the crimes and cover-ups of Richard Nixon and his men resulted in his early exit, and many of us wondered if the US would survive the resignation of a disgraced president.
By 1980, a sluggish economy and a hostage crisis upset our normalcy yet again, as a sullen Jimmy Carter, who had arrived four years earlier with a big smile, was sent packing. Americans preferred the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan.
All seemed normal for a few years, until we learned of the secret sale of arms to Iran, in exchange for the release of hostages. Reagan had stumbled, and the grumbling returned.
More recently, Bill Clinton’s inappropriate relationship with a White House intern threatened to result in the removal of another president before he could complete a second term. That certainly wasn’t normal, although he managed to weather the storm.
The 9/11 attack on America in 2001 was anything but normal. The only silver lining behind that horrible cloud was the strong, if relatively brief unification of Americans as we joined hands to fight terrorism.
Some point to the Barack Obama administration as the most recent impetus for turbulence in America. Despite the hope that an African-American president could unite opposing factions, that did not happen. The debate still rages over who is to blame.
So here we are. Still divided, with social media fanning the flames ever higher. We’re always looking over our shoulder. I’d love to tell my friend that “normal” will come back. I really wish I could.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.