Normal? I think I remember the word. It feels so long ago, like a term conjured from ancient scrolls.

I seem to recall a time when our daily lives ran on routines. For me, it was getting up early, having coffee and getting dressed for class. I’d spend face-to-face time with students, meet with colleagues and then head out to cover a game somewhere. College games, where I got to spend my time in close proximity with coaches and players — many of whom were my students — as I happily went about my job. High school games, with the stands full of families and other fans. Cheerleaders making my ears ring, bands playing and all the other sights and sounds to which we’ve all grown accustomed.

Then, so suddenly, everything was gone. I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever see anything resembling “normal” again.

Over the weekend, however, I got as close as I’ve been in months.

I got to work a Friday night football game. Lord, how I’ve missed it. As it just so happened, this past Friday was also the anniversary of 9/11. After seeing all the tribute posts, I remembered my original feelings on the hallowed date. I remembered wondering way back then if we’d ever return to “normal.” I feel as lost nowadays as I did 19 years ago.

Then, as I did now, I found my solace in my comfort zone: a simple high school football game. To be honest, however, my recent Friday night experience was still more than a little out of whack.

For one thing, the stands in Diboll weren’t packed the way they always are. Every program in Texas has had to scale back ticket sales to ensure some measure of social distancing, meaning only a few fans are allowed to attend. Seeing those empty seats in Lumberjack Stadium should have been a depressing sight.

I couldn’t help myself. I was just ecstatic to see and hear the ones who were there.

The band played the national anthem while spread out across the track. Cheerleaders wore masks. Coaches, trainers and officials wore them, too. An all-around weird sight for sure. I wore one the entire game, and cussed it at first for fogging up my camera’s viewfinder. I caught myself in mid-cuss, remembering how lucky I should feel just to be out there again.

Despite the weirdness, the cheerleaders still yelled. Bailey Curtis and her cheer mates didn’t let any of it quieten them down one bit. They were just as loud as cheerleaders always are, and if I had any dance moves whatsoever, they would have gotten me dancing. Meanwhile, the bands just kept playing. If I’d closed my eyes, everything would have seemed like a normal Friday night.

But COVID’s nasty self hasn’t spared anyone, including football players. Teams all over the nation are canceling games and isolating exposed players. In fact, the Lumberjacks were missing numerous key players out of virus protocols and injuries. The team didn’t win, losing to an opponent I’ve no doubt they’d have hammered had they fielded their full complement of starters.

Nothing normal about it, that’s for sure.

It didn’t matter at the moment. The ’Jacks were missing players, but those who were on the field were playing football. Hearing the popping pads and helmets mingling with all the other stadium sensations, I felt almost normal again. When I nearly got trucked on the sideline while shooting a pic, I was as happy as a kid eating birthday cake.

On Saturday, there was college football on TV — sort of. There were games, but most of those stadiums were either completely empty of fans or darned near deserted. What is college football without fan noise? Frigging eerie, for sure.

I didn’t care. I had an almost-typical Saturday football day at home with my wife, complete with a grill and games to watch. Not completely normal, for sure, but close enough.

Not many of us are anywhere close to satisfied with what pundits insist on calling “the new normal.” All the precautions, all the uncertainty — we don’t want it. We want our “old” normal back, right?

To get it, we’ll have to accept what’s in front of us. If fans can sit far apart to keep a safe distance, so can the rest of us. If cheerleaders and coaches can wear masks while they’re trying to yell, I can wear one while shooting pics. Maybe one day sooner than later, we can get back to seeing the spit fly without worrying over trying to duck it.

The day isn’t here yet. This is what we’ve got, and there’s nothing completely normal about any of it.

But I’ve gotta say, at this point I’ll take any version of “normal” I can get.

Any kind of normal is better than no normal at all.

Gary Stallard is a regular contributor to the Opinion page of The Lufkin Daily News. His email address is