Earlier this week, I took a yogurt out of the fridge and checked the expiration label. It said the twenty-third of February. I lifted my phone and checked the date. It was the eighth. Maybe it was fatigue, as I hadn't had my coffee. How else could I have my dates so mixed up?
However, I suspect it wasn't fatigue. It's lockdown. My sense of time is jumbled up. I feel rather like the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey who, with a puzzled look asks, ‘What’s a weekend?’
The worst days of the week are Saturday and Sunday. At least on weekdays, I have defined hours as I work remotely. Weekends are an immense chasm that I must fill with something, without having anything to hand. I am, what Jane Austen would’ve disparagingly described, a person without internal ‘resources’. Walks are lovely but I cannot ‘stroll’ for ten to twelve hours. For example, after a lazy Saturday breakfast, my partner and I take the dog for a two hour walk. That fills up to about 2 p.m. Back at the house I think, ‘What now?’ I cannot spend the next ten hours binging on Netflix and TikTok.
In some ways I am experiencing the world as it existed before the clock defined every moment of our lives. Till recently, we complained if a train was delayed by three minutes. An email an hour late could be catastrophic. We dealt in seconds, not days. Hours, not weeks.
That is until the pandemic. Now, life feels like Alice in Wonderland. The days are painfully slow. The weeks fly by in a Groundhog Day haze. I am tired in the morning. I am awake at eleven at night. I am like that bug in Jurassic Park, preserved in amber, waiting to be reanimated. And yet, in a month’s time, I will have somehow been living in this pandemic a year.
These are phrases to describe my relationship with time. The statements all true and yet contradictory. I am sure, any day now, I will find myself at the Mad Hatter’s socially distanced tea party.
Zoom calls. How is it that I can go for a three-course dinner with friends and chat for hours on end and yet, about forty minutes into a Zoom call, the group is out of chat, falling back on the inevitable pandemic-Netflix chatter?
I hate the pandemic for destroying small talk, for eliminating gossip. I want to whisper about who is sleeping with who. I want to plan holidays. I want to talk about what disgraceful thing happened at the Christmas party. I used to think these things were frivolous, that they were precursors to good conversation about more substantial things. Now I realise they equally important.
This sense of time has impacted how I eat. I graze throughout the day, lunch drifting into mid-afternoon. I eat because there is time to use up. An excuse to leave the desk in the same room, in the same house, in the same spot that I have hardly left over the past twelve months.
I rage against preachers of mindfulness who callously claim to embrace the spaciousness of this time. Of course, for moments each day it is good to sit quietly, to become aware that you are breathing, to taste the food you eat, to enjoy the colours of flowers, or the comfort of a warm blanket, or hot water of your shower.
However, do not tell me that this philosophy is enough to fill the thirty-two hours 'awake' hours of the weekend, that it will utilise the time I would have met friends for brunch, or a glass of wine, or spent time with my family. Nothing can replace the hours that I would have been with those I love. Do not tell me to enjoy the ‘woodenspoonyness’ of a wooden spoon. Time with loved ones is not substitutable. To quote the Greek philosopher Epicurus:
‘Before you eat or drink anything, consider carefully who you eat or drink with rather than what you eat or drink; for feeding without a friend is the life of the lion or wolf.’
We are all living the life of the wolf. No wonder time, along with everything else, loses its meaning. There is a reason why solitary confinement is considered one of the worst of all punishments.
Now, I understand, these troubles are nothing to those who are ill, who have actually died and the grief of their families. My struggles do not compare to the challenges facing healthcare workers. Still, frustration needs to be acknowledged, as does the isolation and disorientation. Then I can revert back to being a grown up and ‘get on with it’.
As of right now, I would be happy to be wrapped in straw, like a tortoise, and put in a box under the bed to hibernate until my vaccine is ready. Anything to just be done with the hours.
And the hours.
And the hours.
Written by Jamie O'Connell.