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Guestwords: Covid Time

Wed, 08/18/2021 - 18:25
Marcel Proust in 1895
Otto Wegener / Wikimedia Commons

Get out of bed. Feed the cat and the dog. Take my pills. Brush my teeth. Done. Now what? Think of something to do. Read. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Eat. So boring, eating alone. Watch the news . . . all the bad news. Go to bed. Stream something, anything on TV. Sleep. Repeat, or as they say in music, da capo.

For many of us, our sense of being in time and place has been challenged: the length of a day, the range of the space we occupy; the one extended, the other contracted. I have noted that whereas time seems to have slowed on a daily basis, the months have fled by as if the clock and the calendar had become uncoupled. The mileage meter in my car has registered little movement from my localized circulations among home, the grocery store, the post office, and an occasional outdoor meal with a “safe” friend. Ten thousand miles (the yearly allowance on my car lease) could last a decade.

How does one kill time? I have never before looked at my watch so often in a day. It seems a crime to wish time away just because it hangs so heavy. Time is the priceless container of all we have, and, after all, it will get used up eventually. For those of us who are not young, it feels like a cheat — a blank in what is left of our time.

Pastimes, we call them: hobbies and games, endeavors for passing the time. With time on our hands, we need to find new ones, take up needlepoint or painting or whatever. Keep reading, pass your books on to friends, ask them for suggestions. I, for one, have made use of all this extra time to reread Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” or, as it should be called, “Remembrance of Things Past.”

(I’ll insert here a brief but juicy digression for your pleasure: Proust found his title in French — A la recherche du temps perdu — in Voltaire’s translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #30: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past . . .”)

Eighteen months ago, I used the added hours to clear out a lot of stuff accumulated over the past decades: books, photographs, papers. Many paperbacks had been turned to dust by the acidic paper they were printed on. Half the photographs depicted people I could no longer name. Lots of paper had run the statute of limitations. I am not a saver, yet I filled a dumpster.

I also found old letters that I set aside to reread, but I procrastinate — they summon up remembrances I almost dare not open. Hard as it is, I want to stay in the moment — which seems both fleeting and suspended — rather than ruminate in solitude.

We all anticipated a cautious liberation for the vaccinated this summer: artistic performances with masks and spaced-out seating, dining with vaxxed friends at home or in restaurants — more possibilities to fill time and expand space. It is now all in danger of being smothered under the wet blanket of the Covid Delta strain infecting even the vaccinated. Are the walls starting to close in again? Back to da capo.

Well, Proust can fill many hours, weeks, months, especially in French. He can be savored in small bites with other books in between. They are piling up again: read, to be read, to pass on, to sit on a shelf to wait.

Ana Daniel, retired from business and teaching, lives in Bridgehampton.

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