Is Doom the New Normal?
After 9/11, I assumed the world would never feel “normal” again. For years, every time I stepped outside to the bluest blue sky, inhaling an airy hint of the crispy edge of Fall, reveling in it — and then suddenly feeling a swell of panic that landed in a nebulous place around the middle of my throat.
At the time I didn’t realize that place had a name: PTSD. Post. Traumatic. Stress. Disorder. Meaning, the experience of having had a trauma can chronically provoke anxiety.
My PTSD has manifested itself in different, often unpredictable, ways. There’s the time I was at the airport rental car drop off, heading for the shuttle when a landing jet roared overhead at roughly the same altitude as the one that flew over my head and into the World Trade Center that September morning in the schoolyard just a few blocks north. I flopped to the asphalt like a pratfall when the PTSD triggered inside me.
But somehow those kinds of incidents lessened over the years, and things did sort of feel “normal.” I avoided the 9/11 memorial for years in fear of how I might react. When I finally did make a pilgrimage, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing on a date — casual and chatty, which blunted any emotional impact. It felt noteworthy only in that it had occurred at last.
So yeah, “normal.” “Normal” is what things eventually got back to after the terrifying communal misery of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “Normal” is what we hope we’re approaching as the pandemic becomes endemic, and what work will feel like once it does. And “normal” is what was upended when Frank R. James decided to spew mayhem on the N train.
And yet, once the suspect was apprehended, many citizens set their routines back to “normal” —people got back on the subways, seemingly shrugging off terrorism as an occasional inconvenience of living in the Big Apple.
As Sarah Maslin Nir writes in the New York Times, New Yorkers don’t feel they have a choice. “Being a New Yorker, we are all used to these things, but it’s not going to stop us,” Faith Murray told Nir. “That’s what they want, for you to be scared, and they are not going to win.”
Nir quotes Dr. Charles R. Marmar, the chair of the psychiatry department at the NYU Langone Health hospital system. “We are a fundamentally strong people, we are a diverse people, we carry a lot of exposure to past trauma that we’ve endured. In the same way we are Covid- inoculated, if you successfully master past stressors, then you become somewhat stress-inoculated.”
If society increasingly becomes numb to the downward spirals of American decline — as well as the the perfect storm of world war, political divisiveness, climate emergency, generational shifts, social inequality, economic volatility, labor unrest, and the coronavirus — its spells doom for us all.
Now that chaos is residual — familiar, ubiquitous, and assumed in everyday life — and trauma is dominant, is doom the new “normal”?