With social distancing, some observations

By Rick Seifert


Among the many discoveries of social distancing is a new awareness of time and place. While our focus on time has softened these past weeks, our perception of place has sharpened.

We often ask ourselves what day it is. Weekdays meld into weekends. Wednesday might as well be Saturday and vice versa. We’re more attuned to time’s fluidity. Social distancing pulls us into natural, unmeasured time -- freed of minutes and hours and the names of days. The medical experts and government officials have forced us to adjust our expectations about time and deadlines. How long will this “shutdown” last? It depends. Viruses and fickle human behavior force us to reset our clocks and calendars. Experts also tell us that we should “keep to a schedule” during our isolation. That’s good advice, but every so often we risk freedom from our schedules. If we free ourselves, we often experience new awareness and even spontaneity. Nature, including the microscopic world, has its own rhythms. Now we are learning just how drastically our plans are at the mercy of nature’s syncopations. Another discovery about time has to do with appreciating this place for what it is now, what it once was, and yes, for what it might be in the future. What do you miss? How can you help restore what was? How can you, in your new awareness, make things better? Hillsdale has been my home for 30 years. Now, on my daily walks in this stilled place, I see it across time. A mere 300 years ago, it was nearly as quiet as this. In my own time here, I recall vacant lots and muddy trails where now there are houses, condos and sidewalks. Where once there was a mechanics garage, there’s now a ballet studio. A garbage transfer station is now an apartment building for seniors. I know an elderly woman who grew up in a farmhouse that stood where Wilson High School now is. I greet neighbors whom I remember as young but are now graying and slowly leathering into middle age. My own graying and leathering, they notice, has progressed to balding and slowing. We nod to each other in passing, sharing a wisdom about time, age and change. Yes, this is an often frustrating, even frightening, time of confinement but it is also much, much more. It can be an awakening to time and place.

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