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Crows, quarantine and the ‘new normal’

| Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I had only read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” once, but when a menacing black crow began ramming itself repeatedly into my bedroom window at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, you bet I took notice of the poetic parallels. 

Let me backtrack. It was a dreary, unassuming Monday morning — the beginning of my freshman year fall break and my first trip home from college. That overcast morning came with a strange feeling: waking up in my childhood bedroom instead of a lofted dorm bed, being able to sit up without my forehead meeting the ceiling, finding myself back in a familiar, simple place after living for months in a world of homesick uncertainty.

But I didn’t have much time to ponder these feelings. An unexpected sound shot across my bedroom: SPLAT. 

The sudden noise jolted me from my contemplative half-sleep. About ten seconds later, it came again: SPLAT.

Something was not-so-gently rapping at my bedroom window — and it was out for blood.

I quickly surveyed my options: I could lob my pillow at the window to scare it away (pro: wouldn’t have to get out of bed; con: would never know the identity of my early-morning visitor), or I could rub the sleep out of my eyes, get out of bed, open my blinds and meet my new bully face-to-face (pro: facing my fears; con: facing my fears). 

Curiosity got the best of me — I went with the latter. And what awaited me behind my blinds terrified me more than I could’ve ever imagined: a jet-black crow perched on the rail of my balcony, screaming at me through the window. 

After a few more caws, he leaped off his perch, taking flight for a split second before gracelessly colliding with my window. SPLAT. The strange process continued — caw, caw, caw, SPLAT; caw, caw, caw, SPLAT — until I mustered up the courage to swat at the window, sending my avian assailant soaring off to bother some other exhausted college student. 

But this crow — let’s call him Edgar — quickly became a frequent visitor. For the rest of that week, as I basked in the beautiful normality of being home again, Edgar was there to remind me that oddities and uncertainties lurk around every corner. Caw, caw, caw, splat.

He came like clockwork as time went on — always the same time, same place — and seemingly only appeared when I was home. If a crow slams into a window and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

And just a few weeks ago, sometime soon after we all received the news that we wouldn’t be returning to Notre Dame this semester, I found myself face-to-face with Edgar yet again. Caw, caw, caw, splat. He was mocking me at my lowest moment. 

This was supposed to be the part where I told you that this time, I found a strange sort of comfort in the crow’s presence — that I looked this feathered nuisance in its black, beady eyes and found normalcy. And by the same logic, if I was able to find comfort in such a strange situation, we should all be able to examine the coronavirus and its collateral damage — loneliness, displacement, separation — and discover a “new normal,” find some sort of peace and some form of familiarity in the midst of this chaos.

I really can’t say that, though; it wouldn’t be the whole truth. When I look into Edgar’s eyes, I do not find anything familiar. Honestly, he still terrifies me. While my crow situation might be fairly common, my flighty relationship with Edgar feels far from normal. And while despair and displacement might currently be the norm, millions of marginalized people feel anything but normal.

The sick and immunocompromised, their own lives contingent upon the social distancing practices of others; the neglected communities of color, lacking testing and treatment despite their greater susceptibility; the overworked and worried working-class families, deemed essential but still struggling to survive — these people are not allowed the privilege of normalcy. They are forced into vulnerability by a nation that has never been prepared for a pandemic.  

In no way do I wish to condemn those that are allowed these privileges. If you’re able to afford necessities, if you’re able to isolate with your loved ones, if you’re able to find familiarity in this ocean of uncertainty — allow yourself to feel grateful. Lean into these states of privilege. Maybe even use them for good: Send inspiration through social media platforms, create something to lift spirits, donate to a worthy cause. 

And if you’re struggling, if you’re scared, if the world feels anything but ordinary right now — allow yourself to feel. Our culture may be slowly slipping into a “new normal,” but you are not required to feel normal. Take time to feel with no filter. Take time to feel uncertain. Take time to feel angry. Take time to hurt, to cry, to grieve.

Respond to this crisis the way you need to. Go and look it in the eyes. Or lob a pillow at its face, if you want. But please: Don’t feel obligated to call it normal — or to feel normal.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer, and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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