The virus is creating new geographies of time. It has swept us up and dropped us in this valley filled with still air and sweet birdsong, with craggy walls and rushing streams, carved out of the lives we knew.
Where once time was measured in hours and days and weeks, now it is measured in the passing of realities, in the shifting tone of leaders’ words, like rolling storm clouds passing overhead.
We wander soft fields, looking for a path. We are startled when we stumble over objects from the past, delicate specimens preserved in amber. A crumpled receipt pulled from a pocket, for a restaurant where we gathered to eat and breathe the same air as strangers. A green houseplant, somehow still growing in its pot, not watered for an eon. A backpack, hanging casually on a chair, waiting to be taken to work.
Here with you time is a gentle stream. Cold water softly filling the space around my toes, gentle currents bubbling through my fingers. We measure it with moments – eating breakfast, drawing together, playing tag. With empty jars of applesauce and treasured loaves of bread delivered to our door. We sit on sun-warmed banks and toss our moments into the stream like smooth worn stones. Plop, plop, plop. All of them remembered, but each one forgotten.
Across the way time is measured in the flow of voices. It is a rushing stream, and I steal away to stand on the shore, reaching for something there. I shout, whisper, and awkwardly toss my words into the current, hoping they might catch the something I need, or be the something caught by someone else. Dipping my toe in, I am pulled under and tumbled. It is hazardous and enticing. I return in spite of myself because I am afraid if I stop, no one will notice that I am gone.
In the distance time is a precipice, carved from the valley walls and growing steeper and closer every day, with sharp edges and crumbling stones. Here time is measured in numbers – the number of tests, the number of masks, the number of unemployed, the number of people clinging to the edge, the amount of earth that must be dug, the count of souls we’ve lost.