*This blog post first appeared on the Sacred Heart blog last April
Last week I was scheduled to give a talk at a local parish. We moved it to Zoom. I sat in front of my screen and what looked like a Peter Breughel painting stared back at me. In the bottom left corner an elderly couple wrestled over a tablet. In the top right, a man was bent over, twisting the rabbit ears of his modem, seemingly unaware that, behind him, his camera was already working fine and recording his partially covered rear in high definition. In the Zoom box beside him, two mouths and four nostrils were visible accompanied by an agitated voice shouting, “Is this free? This better be free, because I can’t see nothin’!”
This; this is Spring 2020. Anxiety and technology are poking house-bound families with a stick and seeing what happens. Our governments use the language of “war”. We’re told we’re in a battle, and we must fight, stay strong, resist. This brings with it good things (not least a shared resolve to “stay the blazes home”), but it tells us that this is only a time to be endured, a time of pain and hardship. And while it is those things, in this post I want to suggest that there are some beautiful things too. That, while following all the protocols laid down by the province, if we work with “Covid time” and embrace some of its rhythms, we can enjoy some of the delights it offers to us.
We know that Covid-19 is terrible and will steal loved ones from so many. We also know that it impacts the financially less fortunate far more than others. The virus may come after me and drive me into a hospital bed, but until then I will never be more than 50 feet away from the people that I love most in the world. This is not something to be tolerated or endured. It is something to be enjoyed and embraced. I have three daughters, ages 13, 12, and 6. The two oldest have started a journey that traditionally sees teenagers focus more on friends than on family, culminating in a move away to university. I will spend vast sections of my life after that move remembering their childhood at home and grieving its loss. Wouldn’t it be foolish not to embrace the time with them that this pandemic has given me?
We’re told, rightly, that COVID-19 is an enemy to be fought. But some enemies (such as bulls) are not best fought head on. Instead we must move with them and sway in a kind of dance. Our instinct might be to batter COVID time into regular time, to make it fit with what once was, but this is not possible. Our children are not going to learn all they would in school. If we rage against this fact and try to force this time to mirror normal time, we will increase our stress and our childrens’. We might also miss out on the opportunities this time is giving us. While they won’t learn all the curricular material they would on campus, they have a unique opportunity to learn other things. They can have first person history lessons from elderly relatives over video chat. They can source friends in other provinces and countries who can practice our language while we practice theirs. While some things may suffer, a swathe of learning opportunities are hiding in Covid time.
Covid time helps our bodies recalibrate too. Now, when the sun shines, we receive it like a gift from God and enjoy every minute of time outside. Our sidewalks are hosting a joyous procession of people celebrating the sun, birds, and plants - things that just a month ago were taken for granted. We’re starting to see reality for the joyous delight it is.
Finally, while normal time is undoubtedly better, normal time told lies that Covid time exposes as false. Normal time duped us into thinking that we were individuals, sealed off from (or worse, in competition with) others. But now we’re reminded of the truth that we’re not in competition with others but are small parts of a whole. Our actions collectively determine how many live and how many die. Our tiny action of staying home is part of an intricate tapestry that can save lives in nursing homes. Covid time isolates but, ironically, it does so to remind us of the extent to which we are all connected, each one part of a whole.
The Peter Breughel painting I saw on Zoom made clear the extent to which we’re struggling right now. But perhaps our stress can be reduced if we dance with Covid time, learn from it, and embrace some of its rhythms.