The Pandemic Trickster
by Taffy Cannon
Time, it turns out, is the ultimate pandemic Trickster.
It slithers, it twists, it drifts in and out of focus. Then it slips up from behind and pounces.
This wasn’t obvious when time first got jumbled up, as everyone was suddenly locked down with little information and a very hazy future. We who were older, health-compromised, or both were particularly vulnerable and anxious.
We were instructed to cease all communal activity for fifteen days in order to flatten a poorly-explained curve and prevent medical chaos. Two weeks was also the outside length of time to show symptoms of Covid-19, a tidy pairing. If you emerged from that initial two weeks without the coronavirus, you were probably okay and so was the world.
That first fifteen days got doubled, then elongated indefinitely. Depending on where you lived, you might find yourself mired in either crisis or extreme boredom. Bodies were being hauled out of New York apartments and loaded into refrigerated trucks. Californians were confined to quarters. Meanwhile, much of the country remained blissfully Covid-free and irritated at the inconvenience. Many states didn’t bother to officially notice the coronavirus at all.
Absent strong national leadership, misinformation about a brand-new fatal disease abounded.
While Trickster Time just kept stretching out.
Nighttime sleep could be sketchy and interrupted, and when we eventually crawled out of bed, each new day loomed ahead infinitely. How on earth to fill the hours?
Days dragged into weeks and weeks slunk into months. And yet it always seemed to be trash day. The bills always needed to be paid. Trader Joe’s always had a line waiting outside.
I’d been following the coronavirus since January and watching international infection numbers creep up until they hit 100,000. (41 million, nine months later.)
I knew the country would need more than two weeks or a month to bring anything under control, or even into focus. I decided to assume we’d be in lockdown until Labor Day, never dreaming that wouldn’t be long enough.
I already worked out of my home and knew how to manage my workday time, so that part was easy. I walked in the neighborhood instead of going to the gym. No problem. I like to cook and had provisioned well before lockdown. No panic about things running out.
I started a Victory Garden to grow vegetables in space normally devoted to flowers. I love to grow things and my garden time usually occurs in spurts, every couple of months. I’ll put in a bunch of stuff and then tend everything offhandedly, enjoying the floral rewards while going about everything else.
Now there wasn’t much “everything else” to go about.
My garden time changed. I began spending hours in simple contemplation and appreciation. Watching my vegetable seeds sprout and develop ever so slowly into edible fruit. Witnessing my flowers come gracefully into bud and then open into splendor.
The time I spent in the garden expanded as needed, and then some. I achieved a level of perfectionism I’d never even attempted before. As I mingled with my plants, admiring their efforts and glories, birds and butterflies fluttered through our shared space.
Time seemed no different to them, and I was envious.
Because time remained all too confusing to me.
I am normally a busy person, with a haphazard array of ongoing projects and plans for plenty of others down the road. I don’t stress about starting or finishing most of these, and have noticed that in some cases if I wait long enough, a problem may resolve itself without my intervention.
Now I gave myself permission to be satisfied with whatever I did accomplish, even if it were simply getting up and making it through the day. Something would always get done, often a lot of smaller somethings that I normally wouldn’t even notice. But they were achievements, and I learned to regard them as sufficient. Everything that really mattered got done.
I began to really notice the nuances of time. Not just hours in a day, but cycles of a year. The Vernal Equinox signaled the official arrival of spring, with days lengthening at both ends, a phenomenon I always nodded at but had never really watched. Now I discovered that the glorious Summer Solstice in June offers nearly four and a half hours more daylight than the pre-pandemic darkness of December’s Winter Solstice.
We’re halfway back to the shortest days of winter now, past the Autumnal Equinox. I recognize a difference every day, as time meanders toward the darkest day of the year.
Days end earlier now, but carefree birds and butterflies still visit my garden. And as hawks soar on the thermal currents above, I realize that I too have learned to ride the winds of time.
Some days are harder than others, and those always feel longer. I’ve grown accustomed to being ambushed by those difficult days, which are mostly random and unconnected to anything else. Time stretches out on difficult days, and I try to roll with it.
Sometimes I succeed.
Because now and again, the Trickster can also be tricked.