Some of us don’t have time for this.
One of the things that the pandemic has changed for those of us lucky enough to be simply waiting it out and not fighting for our lives against it, is our perception of time itself.
The rhythm of the week is muffled, each day the same as any other day, the binary ticking of work/home, away and back has ceased, time assuming the languid indeterminacy of a childhood summer. The markers of the year’s passing have been erased, the sports seasons and school terms, the congregate holidays of Memorial Day and the Fourth.
Time seems to have thickened, or dilated, pushing the past and future farther away. In part this is because we’re thinking about the past and future in pandemic terms: when the lockdowns started, when we last saw the inside of a restaurant or a gym or a hair salon, when schools will reopen, when they’ll have a vaccine. Our former lives seem like ancient history, our futures as speculative as science fiction, and yet we dote on that past, that future. We’ve lost purchase on the now.
How quickly the everyday pleasures of dinners with friends or travel for fun have receded into nostalgia, as though they had been ours in some other life, some other country, and not just a few months ago, here. It’s the downside of our adaptability, this quickness to consign to wistful memory things that were common as rain.
And as for the future, if we continue to be lucky, it will be years before this and years before that. At least a year, more likely two, before a vaccine. Years before we venture back in our careless, cranky old way onto commercial aircraft, or cruise ships, or mass transit. Years before we sit in a crowded restaurant and feel special because we got to be among that crowd. Years before we might go back to the distant places, across oceans, places we’ve been so many times and yet miss the way we miss a loved one.
And some things are gone forever, perhaps, the hugging and kissing outside our homes, the simple shaking of hands, the massing into ecstatic crowds for sports and music and prayer, all those bare faces, breathing deep, singing out, open to the world.
There’s gratitude in this, that we had all these things in such abundance before, and that, careless though we were, we at least knew enough to seize them and enjoy them over and over.
But there’s also resentment. Because the thing is, some of us, literally, don’t have time for this. The interrupted graduates and prom-goers have their entire adult lives to replace this nightmare with their dreams, but time, that finite stuff of life, is in shorter supply to others. My wife and I used to say to each other, “let’s do it now, while we can,” never thinking that “now” could be indefinitely suspended, and that the uncertain future we didn’t want to wait for would become the only option.
But we’re among the lucky ones, just waiting for time to resume its normal flow, hunkered down and patient as hunters, well-stocked with memories of all we did before.