Memories of Time Stopping

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.

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Looking Forward to the Fourth Day: Fear and Fate in the Time of Covid:19

ScanLooking Forward to the Fourth Day

In November of 1982, I was in the Bering Sea, working as a Biologist/Observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service and assigned to a Japanese Long Line vessel, The Ebisu Maru. The ship was 170’ long with a crew of twenty, fishing the Aleutian Islands for groundfish.   One thing you learn when fishing in the North Pacific and Bering Seas is that weather comes at you hard. You learn to ride out heavy weather that makes the worst day shown on The Deadliest Catch television show seem like a summer day on Dorena Reservoir.

This storm came from Siberia, we had daily weather maps and there was time to prepare. Typically, bad storms lasted three to four days, and unable to fish in heavy seas, the crew took to their bunks for a much-needed sleep.

Once the storm arrived, I spent the first day asleep with my legs braced against the bed rails so I wouldn’t fall from my bunk to the floor. This storm was unlike others I had experienced, steadily building in ferocity.

Beaufort_wind_scaleOne of my responsibilities was to take weather and sea condition readings every day at six o’clock. The ship’s bridge sat twenty feet above the waterline, and waves were crashing down that were twenty to thirty feet above that! For the first time in my life, I wrote down Beaufort 10, only two steps away from a hurricane. The waves swelling and subsiding around us were close to fifty feet, and the ship rose and fell in troughs and peaks. The sea and sky were indistinguishable.

Fear crept into my mind as sleep became more a way of shutting down than it was restful. I slept seventeen hours the first day, but when I could sleep no more, I went to the bridge. During storms, the captain and fishing master took the helm for six-hour turns.   The fishing master, who had fished and whaled in every ocean on the planet, calmly sat in the helmsmen’s chair,

Ebisu Maru Fishing Mastersinging in Japanese wearing a traditional fisherman’s bandana around his head. Each time a wave sent a harmonic vibration through the steel hull, the master looked to me and in broken English said, “My ship is strong!” If he was frightened, it didn’t show. I did not want to show my fear, so I put on a good face, but I thought I was going to die in the steel grey Bering Sea, north of the Aleutians Islands south of the Pribilof, Islands.

On the second day of the storm, I rested in bed while visualizing the welders as they had fabricated the hull of the vessel. I followed every seam as if counting stitches in a wound. Starting at the bow, I followed the seams to the stern. When that ended, I imagined there were Shachi (Japanese for Killer Whales) guarding the ship against danger.

It has long been lore that sailors may presage their death at sea, even accepting its inevitability. That may sound romantic, and it makes for a good tale, but at the moment when you confront death, if there is any choice in the matter, it never hurts to pray for your survival. I looked out of the porthole and said if I am to die here, so be it, but I didn’t want to die, and because of the calm of others and a deep mystical sense of my fate, I knew we would survive the storm. Full disclosure, I did a little bargaining by pledging that I would never go to sea again if I survived.

The storm continued.  On the fourth day, the ocean calmed, and soon we were fishing again.Scan 2

Three weeks later, I returned to Seattle, and except for a short sail between Newport and Reedsport, never far from land, I have honored my pledge. Though even on that short trip, I felt the fates weighing the fidelity of the promise once made.