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“Right now, I don’t know what Normal is Anymore.

That’s because Normal has been changing

So much, So often… Lately. For a long while of lately…”

Mattie J.T. Stepanek (May, 2001) Opening lines of “About Normal” in Hope Though Heartsongs (2002)

Amazing… these are words that Mattie penned during Spring 2001, while he was living “on the edge” in a Pediatric ICU, and acclimating to unanticipated changes and adapting to undesired challenges in his life and his world – and yet, these are words that could be stated or whispered or shouted by pretty much any of us… today.

Mattie’s whole life (and world) was really about having to “redefine normal” and him choosing to creatively and purposefully cope with changes and challenges, and loss – again and again and again and again and more.

He lived with a progressive disability, so his needs and concerns (and fears and realities) – medical equipment and procedures and routines and more – were ever-changing across the years, and sometimes, even across months, or moments in a day.

He lived in a family that was shifting and a world that was shattering – deaths of siblings and a difficult divorce, local and global disasters that led to personal and community losses – challenges that were too often witnessed in real time, and that were ever-impacting his heart and mind and soul.

Yes, he lived ever-challenged with changes and the ongoing need for redefining normal, and yet, Mattie also lived ever-believing in the power of hope, and ever-pursuing the pathways to peace. Despite limitations, he rooted himself in the power of choice – in attitudes and habits that helped him cope with loss, and celebrate life, and connect with others beyond any reality or moment, be it wonderous or woeful.

In this poem, “About Normal,” Mattie writes that he would “like Normal to be Okayness…” – including good emotional and medical and spiritual health. I find this to be an interesting, but not surprising, thought from 10- year-old Mattie, as he was dealing with new health and physical limitations and weighing dire prognostications on his lifespan, and yet, still wanting to redefine normal, and live with purpose.

Mattie’s vision for peace – within and with others – includes a clear call, for each of us and all of us, to tend to basic human needs. When personal and global basic needs are tended to and in balance, it is easier for us to be “okay with who and how we are” as an individual and unique person, and also as people together – across time and space, and with our similarities and differences, and during both triumphant and tragic realities.


Not perfection. Not resignation. But okayness and acceptance. A level of “contentment by choice” and a “so be it” (aka “Amen”) outlook despite chance. An approach – and a choice to choose – not “what” might happen now or next, but “how” to reflect on and respond to and reach out beyond whatever changes or challenges might be a part of “what now,” and “what next.”

We – individuals and families, communities and global neighbors – are dealing with so many changes, and challenges, and losses, and the need to redefine normal – as we acclimate to social distancing and quarantines and as we adapt to virtual connections and new routines.

We are coping with losses – some personal and direct, and some indirect and yet very real. But, somehow, social distancing has been ironically unifying for many folks, and we are learning to be altogether, even as we are each apart.

We are connected by common fears and concerns – a diagnosis of COVID-19 and the availability of life-saving medical equipment… the loneliness of isolation (especially for all the extroverts but even for us introverts) and the impact of frustration on emotional well-being… loss of life or livelihood… acquiring necessities (and also bits of nifties) so that we can tend to basic needs (and wants) – food and beverage, face masks and sanitizer, entertainment and reliable internet access… and so much more….

But we are also coming together – as folks and families and communities and global citizens – with common hopes and collective efforts – to tend to basic needs… and to cope with change and challenges and loss… and to celebrate people and days and life… and yes, to redefine normal.

More and more, we are “putting down the screens” and cherishing “time in the greens” – going for walks, alone or with a few members of our household, around the block or around the neighborhood. We are engaging in meaningful or comforting conversations with loved ones, and we are enjoying the smiles and waves we exchange with folks across the street. We are placing “bears for the hunt” and “art for the heart” in our windows, and we are creatively dealing with the necessary shifts in education and occupation. And rather than hoarding personal care items and groceries, we are sharing our resources and donating to support the food and safety needs of essential workers.

So many hardships to balance. So many lessons to learn. So many blessings to count. So many, so much, and yet, such matters and moments that we can somehow choose to be “okay” with, and even proud of, as we redefine normal…


In other passages, Mattie refers to this concept as “moving forthward” – not merely happening into some next moment because time passes, but, with patience and perseverance and a pursuit of peace, being a part of shaping how each now-and-next moment touches our hearts and minds and spirits – and also our neighbors, and our world, and our future.

But in this poem, Mattie simply calls out for “okayness” – and I believe he finds it, in some way – in this poem, and in his lifespan. And I believe that he reassures us that we, too, can seek and make and bring okayness – for ourselves and for others – with choice and purpose, if, like Mattie, we can understand the important truth of his closing lines: “… somehow, sometime, even if things are not Normal, they’ll be okay…” when we “believe in the great scheme of things, and Life.”

With peace,
Jeni Stepanek, PhD

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