The other day I checked the date on a litre of milk. It said June 2. That information, though, was absolutely no good to me. Standing there, I realized that I still had no clue whether or not the milk was off, because I had no idea what the date actually was.
Had it been during the work week I might have had a chance, since filing columns like this one requires me to type the next day’s date in, and I can do the math from there.
But it was the weekend, a time when, if I didn’t notice the date on the top of this paper, I would be as unmoored in time as Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, unable to differentiate one day from the other since they were all much the same 24-hour period, repeated over and over again, in a Philip K. Dick time loop.
I have taken to calling the period in which we find ourselves The Big Pause, a phrase that may actually be someone else’s — the coronavirus dreams are making it hard to know what is real and imagined lately — but is nonetheless good enough to steal, because that is how it can feel these days, don’t you think?
Not just because everything has stopped, but because we seem to find ourselves in a limbo, made all the more unreal because we have no idea, no idea at all, when it will end.
I don’t want to overstate things: the locked-down stage is starting to ease; anyone can see that.
Nevertheless, at some point a grandchild may climb onto my lap and say, ‘Tell me again about what it was like when time disappeared, when you couldn’t tell one day from another, or late morning from early evening.’
Then I will tell them about 2020.
I will tell them how the dayto-day rhythm hardly seemed to vary when there were only a few places outside of your home to visit. And how it was hard to know Monday from Sunday when the list of things you could do and the folks you could see hardly changed.
I will tell them how we all did our best to fill in the hours: We made our meals and looked at our screens and printed matter. We worked out, worked on our sourdough starter and our victory gardens. Increasingly, we did what we could outside. As counselled, we kept in touch with friends and family to keep the blues at bay.
I will tell them how, sometimes, when we sat down at the end of the day — particularly if we are on an employer’s payroll, which necessitated the full exchange of labour for lucre — it is with an exhausted thud, and an oldtimerish “there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day,” before reaching for the barley water.
But I will also tell them the God’s truth: that, as busy as those days seemed, there was still something muffled, fog-bound and stunted about them.
The conversations only went so far when neither party has much to report in the “what’s new” category.
The shutdown of sports meant that there were no televised games and standings races to mark the passage of time.
The news — all COVID all the time — didn’t change much day to day. Neither did the weather in a place where it could be anywhere from early spring to late fall outside of the window.
Some days the distractions didn’t really work, and even the sanity-inducing workouts, for me running loops around the house, and participating in zoom karate classes out in my barn, could have a hamsteron-a-treadmill quality.
When the locked-down days really closed in, the world was small and a person could feel adrift. Time, to them, had a drip-drip-drip quality, or they turned around and, man, how did it become nine o’clock so quickly.
I’ll tell them all about that. Just as I will tell them that there are worse things than having to stay home, bake, garden and hang around with your family and, maybe, a few friends rather than risk your life. Way, way worse.
And if they really want to know I will tell them all about that, too.