Time is an active friend. It skips, flies, races and slows. It’s spent and wasted. It’s on our hands and walls and microwaves. In moments of joy, we never have enough of it.. And, in a few indelible moments in our lives, time holds its breath and stands completely still.
Last Wednesday afternoon, I sat with my friends at a booth in the Dana Building, laptops burning our eyes, only glancing up for groans about MSU closing before us. I thought I wanted a week off, even two. When the announcement popped up in my friend’s Twitter feed, though, time indefinitely ceased its ever-forward march.
Everyone at that table was a transfer student I met through serendipitous circumstances — a transfer tour of Hatcher in August, Artscapade, a transfer dinner event, a friend of a friend at a party. We all carved spaces and homes for ourselves here after everyone else. We knew not to ask too many questions of the “before,” all being from other colleges or breaks from college. For the first time in a while, we had built a community we loved. In an instant, that new life crumbled. My heart dropped through the cloth-covered couch and onto the floor. At a nearby table, a boy threw a bunch of paper into the air in either frustration or relief.
Whenever I am in doubt or confused of what to make of the world, I run to the Oxford English Dictorionary’s online database. This moment was no different. If defined as a verb, to “time” is “To befall, to happen.” When the coronavirus became real, it fell over our table of friends like a blanket of virgin snow, silent and eerie. We looked at each other and I tried to choose a single emotion. I tried to pluck something from my turning mind and racing heart. I couldn’t pin down anything, so I settled on having everyone over at my place one last time.
That night, we crowded around the TV in my living room, news headlines flashing every few minutes. I lit a scented candle, a meager attempt at diffusing the anxiety palpable in the silences of our conversation. A reporter’s voice boomed around the apartment walls as we ate the cassava cake I had baked. It felt as though we were plopped down into a new reality, a new era of existence.
The OED’s 3a. definition of “time” reads as “a period in the existence or history of the world; an age, an era.” Growing up, I was told that everyone remembered where they were on 9/11. My older brother remembers kneeling in front of our TV, staring at the towers crumbling like Legos while my mother frantically dialed our family in New York.
I think we’ll remember when COVID-19 became real, all of us scrambling to figure out how something could change our lives so fast. Just as 2001 ushered in the era defined by survellience, war and terrorism, 2020’s coronavirus has altered public consciousness permenantly, claiming a new time in our lives.
In true Shakespearean tragedy-worthy irony, my English class’s unit on public poetry and health started last week. We are reading Anne Boyer’s 2019 poetic memoir “The Undying” about her breast cancer diagnosis, how she grappled with her rearranged reality, and its aftershocks in politics. Boyer writes, “if that suffering does not meet sufficient language, those who endure that suffering must come together to invent it.” Just as she endured a reordering of language of her new reality of “sonograms,” “imaging,” and the word “ill," we too have a new language of our time filled with “respiratory,” “coronavirus,” “social distancing,” “quarantining” and “generational war.”
Though some of us are enduring the same isolation as Boyer, there is, and will always be, time. Time to make TikToks with our siblings stuck in the house with us. Time to sit and watch that new series on Netflix (between our BlueJeans lectures of course). Time to realize that loneliness and isolation caused by a public health crisis is simply a concept, a construction that can be pushed aside for taking the time to realize the humanity of those closest to us.