Mental health issues are on the rise, or so they say. It’s hard to gauge this if you were out and about. When I am out walking, I see a great number of people talking out loud as they stroll along even though they are alone. They are of course, talking into a small ear piece you can barely see. They are on the phone per se, and not having a conversation with themselves despite the appearance. It did occur to me however that if I were to walk along and for fun, create a loud, fake dialogue with myself, no one would bat an eyelid. They would think it was all normal.
Head pieces and cell phones didn’t used to be normal, but of course the bar shifts and the goal post gets moved. There are lots of things taken for granted now that would be considered zany even a decade ago. I can recall watching Maxwell Smart as a kid. The shoe phone schtick was hilarious. Except when they did the modern remake with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, the shoe phone just seemed entirely normal and my kids did not pick up that it was supposed to be far out spy stuff. They just asked me, “Dad, why is he using his shoe for a cell phone?”
I once read a book on schizophrenia by Kurt Vonnegut Jr, who was himself afflicted. His objection in the book, that he was considered off kilter for not wanting to conform to what he considered to be a crazy world. Getting older, I can relate. There are plenty of things I don’t buy in on automatically even if everyone else is doing it.
I never thought I’d see many of the things that have been normalized in recent times. You notice most if you watch eighties or nineties movies. You realize the Overton window has shifted dramatically in a generation. There are so many things that do not make sense for someone my age and stage. I feel like the guy in the Van Morrison song, “Why Must I Always Explain?”
Well I get up in the morning and I get my brief
I go out and stare at the world in complete disbelief
It’s not righteous indignation that makes me complain
It’s the fact that I always have to explain
Well it’s out on the highway and it’s on with the show
Always telling people things they're too lazy to know
It can make you crazy, yeah it can drive you insane
Tell me why must I always explain.
I’m with Van Morrison on this. There are things that you should not have to explain to normal people. All of this can make you a little cranky, if not insane. One cure might be to stop reading the news, front line shock troops for the new normal. You have to wonder sometimes if they are merely reflecting consensus, or creating it.
If I open up the book of Habakkuk in the Bible, I read the story and see myself. The prophet Habakkuk is miffed at a world where corrupt leadership, violence and graft has become the new normal. He doesn’t get it. If there’s a God why doesn’t he intervene? So he sits on the city wall in protest and calls God out on the state of things. He’s pressing on God to prove that justice is real, and to do something. What he is really asking is for God to call in the cards and lay evil flat. He’s kind of an angry old man.
O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!” and You will not save.
Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
When you read this opening complaint, you’d swear the guy is reading the 2021 morning news, and complaining about riots and statue topplers.
Habakkuk is either incredibly sane, or lock-up kind of crazy. He also reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s complaint. If you can’t accept the current state of affairs as normal, are you crazy, or is your moral barometer in perfect order? Habakkuk is not alone. I’m also sitting on the walls of the city, waiting for God to answer. If Habakkuk and myself sat down for a coffee together I bet we would have a lot to talk about. I also bet he wouldn’t believe the new version of “normal”.