Saturday Evening Friends,
A common observation during the Covid pandemic has been a subtle change in how we experience the passage of time. We might call our notice of a time warp as “pandemic time.” We may have felt that time often seemed to pass slower and other times it passed faster. We needed to remind ourselves what day it was or what we did earlier in the week. And assuming there is such a thing as "pandemic time," why is it so? Why might we find the passing of "pandemic time" both a positive, welcome change and yet in other ways depressing? I have been thinking about these questions when I read a study on "Covid Time" that I will cite below for your reference if you are interested.*
I find the question of the impact of the pandemic on our sense of time to be important because our strangely altered measure of time may be one of the primary ways we ourselves are also being altered during the pandemic in terms of our psyche. I have always considered myself quite attentive to time as my way of orienting to my schedules for work, mealtimes, even relationships, and life in general. The shift to “pandemic time” has disoriented me from my reliable means of framing my day and my life itself.
One obvious response when our cyclical commemorations such as birthdays or holidays are disrupted or delayed is to experience a sense of loss which in turn makes us ever more appreciative of how we use our precious time in our lives. Many of us have thought about what it would mean if we were to suddenly contract Covid and die. And faced with this heightened awareness of our mortality we are challenged more urgently to repair broken relationships and straighten our affairs.
More commonly we have come to examine how we use our time on a daily basis. We may have found it liberating to know we don’t need to take as much time to shop or commute to work, for example. And, in turn, we may have learned we need to continue the Covid gift of more down time with family and friends and to make up for lost time during Covid with others.
Whatever the gains or losses from “pandemic time”, it has also induced anxiety and our bouts of depression. “Pandemic time” is almost synonymous with anxious and extended periods of waiting - waiting for some assurances that the pandemic will be over, waiting for vaccinations and incubations, waiting for schools and restaurants to reopen, waiting to be able to visit in person again. And the act of waiting, especially with no known end time, will always be a challenge for us. We Americans are not used to deferred gratifications!
In response to all this I am celebrating Advent, my favorite liturgical season in the Christian tradition. Advent is recognized symbolically as the time leading up to Jesus’ birth that includes four preceding Sundays before Christmas. It is traditionally a time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, a pregnant time, an expectant time, with all the quiet reflection it evokes. Advent also coincides with anticipation of the Solstice and the turning of the sun toward the promise of more light which further emphasizes this as the season of waiting and anticipation. The Advent season also includes another poignant symbol of waiting for me, and that is the way rhododendron and azalea plants, among others, establish their buds in the fall which means they must endure waiting through the freezing cold of winter. There they are in the coldest days of the year yet so full of promise and hope as they patiently await their full bloom in the spring. Nature has set its own surprising timetable that defies what we would expect of good order as though to make the point that waiting against common expectations only makes the waiting all the more glorious and wondrous.
We cannot know ultimately, of course, if and when the long wait for relief from the pandemic will be considered over. I do know that built into our human rituals and the examples in the natural world, we are invited to enter into a mode of patience, hope and trust, that our waiting will not be in vain. In discouragement we can look to the mystery of the indomitable rhodies and the cycles of the sun, or we can join in the hallowed meditations of Advent to remind us we simply need to wait. And in our hopeful moments we can also anticipate the gift of a beautiful blossom and the thaw of the Solstice sun on a reemerging world.