Memories of Time Stopping
Live long enough, and you come to understand that the world occasionally shifts its axis. In those moments, routines and necessities change: time stops.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the speed and frequency with which we ride the roller coaster of living. Optimism and pessimism rise and fall like tides. People struggle with having the most basic form of control taken away. Humans, with their endless creativity and resilience, rally their optimism even as they “check the numbers” each day for signs that things will return to “normal.” One thing is sure: we are alive, and for some, experiencing the majesty of that for the first time.
Living in an industrial age, few of us experience a creature’s life. Few of us grow or hunt our food. We live in homes that are never too cold or too hot. There is droning predictability to things, and it is rare to experience the world independent of the filters of a culture that programs our thoughts. Our imaginations have been stolen.
But then, the world stops: work stops, school stops, church stops, concerts stop, bars stop, commerce grinds to a halt, and distractions like sports and socializing stop. For some, the sudden vacancy of time is a torment, for others, a pleasure, a reminder there is more to life than grinding.
I recall the other times before in my life of almost sixty-five years when the world stopped.
A hurricane in 1960, when my family sped home in torrential rains beginning to challenge the windshield wipers, casting doubt on whether we would reach our harbor, our refuge from the storm. Five years old, I still recall the tension and aliveness in those hours.
In 1963, three days after moving to an alien and frightening New York City, President Kennedy was killed, and our world went into shutdown, sequestered in a small hotel room with my parents and two sisters awaiting the move to our apartment.
A few years later, The Blackout, when the entire eastern seaboard lost power 1and the homes and streets of New 963, York went dark. People poured out of their apartments and by flashlight united in curiosity and support, not typical behavior by New Yorkers who to adapt to a dense world of humanity by maintaining an impenetrable shield of detachment.
December 1974, I was traveling on the West Coast and got a phone call that my mother was dying. I took a plane back east the next day; four days later she died. More subtle was the stoppage of time from this. Three years later, time resumed.
A few years later, another hurricane barreling down on the city. I was visiting a friend on Long Island and drove like a maniac to get home to the Bronx before the storm. And, the irony of ironies is that once I made it back, instead of staying inside, I put on a raincoat and took to the barren streets, as the storm began blowing wires and roofs, anything not battened down. Soon, the rain came and torrents of water washed the filth of New York City’s streets it all into the river. Walking in that I felt so alive!
Fifty years into life in the Northwest, I have experienced blizzards, prolonged winter power outages, and shutdowns when the basics of life like candles and cooking over the woodstove connected us to our lives. How often do you truly appreciate that you have a warm home and a roof over your head? How often do you appreciate that you have the tools and instincts to survive?
None of these events held us as does, COVID-19, with the entire globe in its hands. A tiny, mindless virus with seven billion people in its gravity. The virus reminds us like the haunting words of Point Blank, by Bruce Springsteen that, “No one survives untouched.” No one survives untouched in time we will share for the rest of our lives; the moment when the planet turned, time stopped, and we survived, feeling every moment of our precious lives.
For many of us, this will be the defining moment of our lives. Embrace it, help others who need your strength, and trust the steady beating of your own heart.