I’m stuck in a surreal bending of time. My calendar is empty for the rest of my life, or at least until this situation sorts itself out, which I now realize could be many months. I shudder and focus on the things I can control, like setting the microwave for 90 seconds and refilling ice cube trays. My day is occupied by the excruciating mundane, washing my hands, washing my masks, washing dishes, feeding the dog, walking the dog. I never washed so many dishes because I never ate so many meals at home. I bought some new plastic containers to hold my leftovers in the fridge. Someday I hope to give them away as a sign that my life is back to normal and I don’t have to eat chili five meals in a row. But for now that’s just how it is, and I feel self-conscious for complaining because I’m fortunate enough to make too much chili and eat it for a week. Still, eating the same thing every day erases my memory of what day it is. Today could definitely be yesterday or tomorrow. How would I know?
My isolation is a weird mix of being disconnected from the things I enjoy and feeling deeply connected to the fierce humans who share my fate. A new world is being formed by the invisible hand of unity. If this calamity was an earthquake or a hurricane, it would be localized, we could picture the phenomenon and comprehend the destruction. We could calculate the total loss and plan the process of rebuilding. But so much of what is changing these days is metaphysical: our knowledge, our beliefs, our sense of self, our relationships, our habits, our commitments, our sense of place, our values, our priorities. Our routines have been disrupted by uncertainty and our confidence in the system is shaken. Seven billion of us are re-ordering our lives based on new information, moving like a school of anchovies in synchronous fear to evade the shark. Seven billion moments in time become one shared reality. One history. One humanity. One future.
I watch the digital clock on the microwave, and it seems to be moving slower than it did a month ago. Minutes have more space between them. I suspect a surreal bending of time like when your car fishtails on a slick road and you feel your guts swishing from side to side between your ribs, and you know you’re out of control, and your whole life passes before you because you’re pretty sure you’re going to wake up dead, and then your front fender hits a guard rail and your tires grip the land and the fishtail stops, but the adrenaline keeps rushing and you have visions of end times so profound that you’ll never be the same again, and you promise yourself you’ll be kind to every person you meet for the rest of your life.
I imagine humanity mid fishtail, in a blur of the mundane and the profound, a surreal bending of time punctured by the ding of my microwave. Lunch is ready. I listen to a podcast. I eat. I brush my teeth. The math of toilet paper shortages commingles with the math of illness and death, and I promise myself, if I live through this, I’ll be kind to every person I meet for the rest of my life, and next time, I won’t make so much chili.
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