Time in the Time of Coronavirus

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.

6 thoughts on “Time in the Time of Coronavirus

  1. Sometimes, things conspire and combine in just the right way. Your piece landed in my open heart a bit ago and opened up memories of PVC, our lovely village and precious friends long past, Perry included. I no longer live in Portola Valley but have the great good fortune to share a wonderful neighborhood with the St Clairs. Aren’t they the best? I am so touched by your thoughtful essay on where we find ourselves right now in the Time of Coronavirus.

    Joan Blackmon

  2. Beautiful post, K. But you do have time! The places and people will be there on the other side of this for us… and all of us will, as C does, kiss the ground and hug like crazy with new gratitude then.

    Feels like we’re heading into a grinding phase of this distancing. We social and pleasure-loving beings are feeling the leaden weight of extended isolation. Let’s find creative ways to be together safely when you return. You bring so much joy to our lives, and coronavirus can’t take that away!

    Love you🧡💕🧡💕🧡😘😘 Xxoxoxo

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  3. Absolutely right on target. I feel for the current grads, those who graduated 10-12 years ago who have now been through 2 of the 3 worst economic periods of the last 100 years. Missing concerts and ballgames can be replaced by video, hugs, kisses and other forms of friendship and intimacy are going to be much harder to replace and to even harder to accept. It will not be the same. Keep writing. It helps.

  4. My mother gave me oodles of good advice over the years but one stands out now – get on with your bucket list while you can because you just never know what’s around the corner. As you say, Keith, we didn’t know just how close the corner was or how significant the surprise would be. I’m actually optimistic (Mom also advises me to be that why because, well, why not?) because my efforts to figure out how to get two theatres safely up and presenting have exposed me to several exciting and ready technologies that could make a real difference. Maybe even help get those hugs and handshakes back. Thanks, Keith, for putting voice to sentiments with your usual grace.

  5. Pingback: You Never Know the Last Time | Mortal Coil

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