My daughter is a mathematician. She finds solace in the clarity and exacting ways of numbers, revels in their propensity to be wrong or right. There is no grey area in mathematics; even in her beloved calculus, there is no ambiguity. Sadly, in the rest of the world, this simplicity does not exist. We find subjectivity and perspective to be great advantages at times, but taunting banes at others. Nowhere is this more true, I think, in the quest to define what is “normal.”
One can easily find a dictionary description to read something like, “that which is generally accepted by the majority.” However, that in and of itself, leads to more questions. How much is “generally accepted?” 35%? 57%? 83%? And what is the majority? Do I just need to find 10 random people, 6 of whom agree with whatever I’m postulating, and I get to call it “normal?” I just don’t see it.
My friend, The Writer, and I have had several discussions in which she says she feels like a “freak” because she is not Christian, unmarried and child-free. She becomes bitter at times, over the fact that she is not seen as “normal.” But really, I disagree with her assertions. Christianity is indeed the primary religion practiced here in the US; as of 2008, 76% of American adults labeled themselves as such. But does that make the other 24% “abnormal?” The unmarried and child-free status is becoming more and more popular, as young adults see the effects of over-population, especially in a time when the global economy is in the tank. And really, 40% of children in 2007 were born out of wedlock anyhow. If that number continues to rise, as it has pretty steadily for several years now, it will soon be the majority. In that case, does getting knocked up after a frat party and having the kid make you “normal?” Hmm.
I tend to ponder this kind of stuff when I step back and really look around me. In my daughter’s dorm this week, a girl on her hall was humiliated in public by a guy who found the action of her kissing a man of another race abhorrent. In NJ, a young man committed suicide after being “outed” in public by his roommate. In Georgia, a devout, evangelical Christian pastor has been accused by several different men of being a sexual predator of young men. In Oregon, a mother went to pick up her 7 and 9 year old daughters from school, but was told they had not been there all day. Confused, she went home to find that her loving husband had murdered the girls and then killed himself.
What of this is “normal?” Well, the University where the dorm incident occurred is in the south, where racially subversive behavior is alive and well. The situation in NJ has been called a “prank.” The pastor in Georgia? Part of the American majority. The Oregonian family? Married couple, two children. My point is that while all of these incidences could easily be seen as anomalies, and I sure hope they are, they were still committed by “normal” people. Or were they?
In my opinion, there really isn’t such a thing as “normal.” I know that, in my own family and my own life, our way of functioning is often seen as “weird.” We raise our children to think for themselves, to embrace diversity in all forms, and to have a vastly open mind when approaching new concepts. My marriage is not to Cinderella’s own Prince Charming, but to my best friend, with whom I still share the bond of actually liking each other, as well as the fact that we have three children. Other people see this as strange and cannot comprehend why we chose not to divorce when it was clear that our paths had diverged to the point that we weren’t fairy-tale compatible. For us, it was a choice we made after a lot of time spent talking, crying, fighting, working with a therapist, and finally coming to the conclusion that our life was better as a family than separated. We’re an anomaly in the “normal” world, but I’ve decided that I like it that way. From what I’ve seen lately, the “normal” people are a lot more dangerous.