Who knows what events in the world, or even in the U.S., will look like next week? As I write, the U.S. has hit a mark: the highest number of COVID-19 cases thus far, surpassing the numbers in other countries, including Italy and China. It’s scary and sad. Of course, all of us need to be using common sense, not allowing ourselves to become complacent, and practicing social distancing.
We’re are so accustomed to our daily routine that it’s as if we have been evicted from our lives. For me, a high school English teacher, I have been directed to make available class assignments both online and in hard copy to be picked up by students at school, with an April 6th deadline to create them. I’ve finished my hard copies and left them at school and am about to work on ensuring that the assignments and instructions are available online as well. Because a number of our students have no Internet availability at their homes, teachers in my district cannot depend on consistency in regular online instruction.
Thus, one valuable commodity some of us – those of us who don’t have to remain on the front lines helping others – have received is time. If you’re a teacher like me, you’re accustomed to having some periodic breaks. Somehow, though this “break” from routine is different from those breaks. During summer break, in particular, the break may not be as regimented for me as my customary routine, but I still have events and activities planned.
I like to travel during the summer, for one; I have professional development I must complete as part of my contractual teaching requirements; I often sign on to do independent work for my state department of education in Nashville. For the past two summers, I have spent an entire month working for Johns Hopkins University in a program for gifted students in Hong Kong. Last summer, I spent the preceding week exploring two cities in Spain, Madrid and Barcelona, with a slight layover in Paris before heading to my home base at Hong Kong University for July.
Most recently, for about two weeks, in the midst of social distancing I have been sleeping later than my normal 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., rising sometime between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. – generally closer to the latter. Often I don’t go to bed until midnight or later. These are what I consider my “normal” sleep and wake times, and I feel as I feel as if I have momentarily returned to the regular Circadian rhythm of my body.
Therefore, time has become distorted. Except for a few events here and there – meeting deadlines in applying for a couple of summer positions, writing a newspaper column, budgeting time to go to school to make photocopies – time seems almost to have stood still. There is nowhere I must be right now, and except for a few tasks, I’m not continually busy all day, in the same way that I regularly find my time parceled out into previously scheduled niches on my to-do list.
I have been afforded time to work in the home I’ve purchased, organizing books, hopefully moving on soon to other items. (I’m going to have a gargantuan yard sale after the quarantine!) I actually have some undisturbed time to read some of those books I have been collecting over the years. (Where to begin? I have nine bookcases full of books!)
Further, I’ve had time to spend with my mother. Several days ago we loaded into the car and explored some rural parts of McNairy and Hardeman County, Tennessee. We drove past an area near Big Hill Pond where Mom lived as a little girl, and she relayed some of the stories of her childhood. We ended the excursion with ice cream from Sonic.
I’ve also had more liberty to engage in regular conversation, devoid of time constraints. Conversation and storytelling, I believe, may ultimately be a casualty of our technologically-infused world, with so much television and social media devouring the hours. I have noticed this change because Mom and I, for one, have simply had more time to talk.
One night she told me the funniest story. (Consider here that I’m an English teacher, and Mom is a few days shy of her 88th birthday.) As a child, interestingly, she attended school for a time in a building where the Corinth, Mississippi post office is now located. She was apparently an excellent student, so advanced that others continually wanted to copy her work.
However, she said she hated one particular assignment: giving book reports. Her strategy was as follows: she said she would read the dust jacket of the book, then the back of the book, and finally “a few pages here and there.” From that, she’d write her book report. “I wrote short book reports,” she said. I love that story.
So in the midst of fear, anxiety, and potential tragedy, some of us need to remember that we are getting something we aren’t always afforded: unencumbered time that offers us opportunities to catch up on reading all those books we have been meaning to read, recording our experiences during the pandemic in writing or video, and connecting with family members that are close by. Hopefully, we will never face another viral threat as serious as this one in our lifetime, but, for now, savor the time if you are fortunate enough to have it.