Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The waiting game

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of time lately. For instance, it’s March. One year ago, as France entered its first major nationwide lockdown, I remember muttering something to myself like, “Beware the Ides of March indeed!” And behold—here we are again. That was the fastest 100 years ever. 

So much about how I personally have experienced these past 12 months has revolved around time—facing time, grappling with time, hating time, accepting time—that I feel it warrants a closer look. Because what do I have on my hands for once? Time.

First of all, time and I are not pals; I am chronically late—or was, when I used to have things to be late for. Ever seeking to rectify this, yet knowing that I probably can’t, the very thought of having to be somewhere for something at a given hour and no later (school, for example, or any form of public transportation) invariably plunges me into a state of stress that less eccentric people reserve for auditions or blind dates.

But time, like so many other things, has been turned on its head in the Covid Era. Rather than chasing after time, wishing we had more of it, time has now become the prison guard smiling cruelly at us as we ask how long our sentence is. As the pandemic has evolved, my temporal concerns have evolved alongside it. What began as “How long will this last?,” “When will masks be available?,” and “When IN GOD’S NAME will my children’s activity books show up?” became “When can we go back to real classes?,” “When can we fly to the US again?,” and “When can we get vaccinated?” Now, one year later, the questions have taken on a certain resignation; optimistic whens have been replaced by melancholy wills: “Will this ever end?,” “Will we ever get our lives back?,” or to quote Dave Matthews, “Will it [ever] be the same again?” But regardless of the question, time’s unsympathetic response remains ever the same: I. Don’t. Know. *snicker*

I’ve often joked that Covid has been a spiritual exercise unlike any other. The noble ideals of being present in the moment, of finding small pleasures in the everyday, and of living life as it comes have all become almost required learning if one is to survive the waves of cancelled plans, thwarted goals, and absolute powerlessness that this past year has brought. For a society in which the virtue of patience is as antiquated as a brass bedwarmer, being forced to wait for absolutely everything—INDEFINITELY—has been excruciating.

To stem the frustration, I’ve learned to simply stop planning to have or see or do anything outside my immediate reach. I suppose a certain freedom lies therein; for those of us who tend to be on the anxious side, not having to think about the future means not having to worry about it. But it’s also a way of life that seems to be perpetually on hold. While we watch and wait, the world continues to spin. The seasons change. Birthdays and anniversaries come and go. We are both in reality and weirdly outside of it. 

All of us humans lead dual lives. I know from experience that the inner, contemplative life can absolutely benefit from the spiritual lessons of lockdown and social distancing. But even an introvert such as myself can see that the outer life—the one that has been wholly sacrificed this past year—is quite simply indispensable to our well-being. Activities, ceremonies, traditions. School, office, church. Restaurants, theaters, museums. Dance lessons, Boy Scouts, play dates. Brunches, after-work drinks, dinner parties … all of these things matter. They aren’t banal. They aren’t expendable. They are part of what makes us human. Without them, we’re all a bit diminished. 

For some reason, I have always hated the saying “this won’t last forever.” I find it to be both condescending and oddly bleak. But in the age of Covid-19, it suddenly doesn’t feel so depressing anymore. Probably because it’s better than “I don’t know.” I mean, at least it recognizes the existence of an end point, even if it doesn’t specify where the end point lies. All jokes aside, though, I am hopeful. Truly. This won’t last forever. We will be vaccinated sooner or later. The masks will come off one day. And in the meantime, we just have to continue to seek the joy residing within our own little worlds, to do our best to keep holding on, to remember that the time we have is borrowed—and that no one is preventing us from dancing.

Dave Matthews: Shadows on the Wall
(aka Singing from the Windows)

When the war is over 
and we go back to everyday, everyday 
will it be the same again 
when you've been turned inside out and outside in? 

Singing from the windows 
shadow on the wall, the way they dance 
not much of nothing 
and look at this fire burning bright 

Look at how the children play 
none of us know what's to come tomorrow 
but I'm not going out today 
so dance with me like the time we've got is borrowed 

Singing from the windows 
sirens in the dark, where are you going? 
pretend that it's nothing 
but look at this fire burning wild 

Well this is how we keep holding on 
every day, all day long 
but sometimes things just fall apart 
no matter how you try, they won't stop 

Singing from the windows 
something outside and I don't know

When the storm is over 
and picking up the pieces of everyday 
memories in picture frames 
trying to put the inside out and the outside in
Singing from the windows 
walking down the hall, nowhere to go 
(it'd) be good to see you, but 
suppose when it's all said and done 

This is how we keep holding on 
all the days, all day long 
but sometimes things just fall apart 
no matter how we try, they can't stop 

Singing from the windows 
voices outside and no one knows 
singing from the windows 
we'll get going again 

When the war is over