Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

Our sense of time

This long, featureless year has finally gotten past where it started, and we’re revisiting some of the low points, those odd, you’ve-gotta-be-kidding moments that marred this time last year, which seems to have happened both a lifetime and just a day or so ago.

We’ve heard a lot recently about some of the terrible symptoms that drag at long-haul covid sufferers, the missing sense of smell, the fatigue, the random neurological symptoms, including intense paranoia, that can make their lives so painful, so full of unpleasant surprises. But now I find myself wondering about a long-term side effect that that has nothing to do with the disease itself but everything to do with the pandemic — an inability to understand the passage of time in any kind of regular way. Time has melted like one of Dali’s watches. It slimes and rushes; it moves according to its own secret laws, which it keeps hidden from us. I wonder if we’ll get our normal sense of time, the regular tick-tick-tick of it, back when this is all over.

Nature does have its regular schedule. That part’s true, and it’s oddly healing to see how the trees and flowers and birds absolutely neither know nor care about the virus.

People, though — that’s something else.

I was out walking a few days ago, one of those first gloriously warm days, when you can remember that people are not made of big padded down-and-nylon tubes but have actual arms and legs, and I started noticing masks again.

I think lots of people had broken out new masks. There seemed to be more light colors and floral prints. And maybe I’m making this up, but it seemed to me as if the shapes of the masks were a little different, also. A little pointier. A bit sharper. For all I know, that’s true; for all I know, commercial mask-makers (and how smart were those people!) decided to do something a little different around the nose. Maybe it’s a way to keep glasses from fogging.

All I do know is that I was walking, and looking, and all of a sudden I was overcome with the strangeness of all of it. Everyone — including me — was doing what we should be doing, covering our faces, keeping any aerosolized anything that might be coming from us inside our masks, and keeping everyone else’s out. Very proper.

But all of a sudden, for one brief second, it just looked so wrong. All of a sudden, it looked like my neighborhood was being invaded by masked colorblind weirdos. All of a sudden, I just wanted to scream, run home, and hide under my bed.

I have a feeling is that although this all hits each of us differently, I was being struck by something that gets to all of us. That’s the understanding that this is strange, this is hard, it’s been a long time, and please let’s have this end. One full year is enough.

It is also true that nothing has changed this year. Time always, even now, moves in a spiral, not a circle. Many of us already have been vaccinated, and more and more of us will be. That changes the rules and gives us hope. By next year, barring catastrophe, we’ll be back together. Maybe by then our sense of time will come back.

Until then, we wish all of you, our readers, and your families and friends, and your communities, rippling out in larger and larger circles, a chag kasher v’sameach. 

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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