We’ve heard of kairos time and chronos time. Maybe, tongue in cheek, now we have “pandemic time”. Indeed, how do we define time during a pandemic? There is the slow, thick movement of monotonous days at home during quarantines. Simultaneously, there is the sense of urgency and flurry of activity at a hospital in the epicenter, where mere moments matter in saving a life. Time moves at both of these ends as well as somewhere in the middle, in the in-between. Maybe we are even naming our days “B.P.” for “Before Pandemic” and “A.P.” for “After Pandemic.”
Perhaps this is how we do name this strange time: an in-between time, a “pandemic time”. We are in-between what life used to be and what life will be on the other end of this particular stretch of time. In a sense, though, we have always really existed in an in-between time: we are constantly between any two tasks of a day, between morning and evening, between life and death, between the temporal and eternal.
Yet perhaps now we feel the existence of this middle state a little more keenly than we did before. We are distinctly more aware of this space of waiting, this “in-between” time.
I am reminded of the words of Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote in Walking In Water, “When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.”
I ponder these words, “no time for “being.” Who was I “being” before? Who do I need to be now, amidst the pandemic? And how much of the running B.P. (Before Pandemic) was necessary, fruitful, helpful? Does anything need to change? Who do I need to “be” After Pandemic?
What do I need to listen to in the midst of social isolation? Who should I listen to? With the usual face-to-face meetings and group gatherings turned virtual or disappearing for a while, what am I listening to? What was I missing amidst the noise, during the other routine, the before routine? Even now, it is hard to stick to a routine with the lack of structure and all other activities put on hold. Yet, I am asking myself what am I listening to now, and what do I need to listen to after, in this in-between time?
L’Engle continues, “but BEing time is never wasted time. When we are BEing, not only are we collaborating with chronological time, but we are touching on kairos, and are freed from the normal restrictions of time.”
How freeing it is to consider that our “BEing time is never wasted.” Even as we are trying to balance working from home while children may be tugging at our knees, amidst the challenges of finding new routines, new work-flows, the lack of structure, and the new challenges and blessings of more family time, we are not wasting our days if we are truly being in them. Anytime we are truly being in our days is not wasted, pandemic or no pandemic.
“If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves,” writes L’Engle. The unique factor about our situation is the encompassing nature of it, as the entire world has been catapulted into a new reality and we all experience it simultaneously, in varying degrees. This situation is occurring beyond our control and we are on the back-end, maneuvering our way through and beyond. While the people on this planet together share the uncertainty and trauma of this new state of being, we are also learning, each in our own unique way, how much control we did not have. We each have new boundaries, new norms, new paradigms, and we will all face a new state of being “after”. As we have never lived through such a pandemic, we have no fallbacks, no “way-back-whens”, no other comparables. We are walking into the future together, yet also separate, in our own aloneness and our own new states of post-pandemic being, with the lessons the pandemic taught us.
While we may be living in isolation these days, L’Engle reminds us that, “Our story is never written in isolation. We do not act in a one-man play. We can do nothing that does not affect other people, no matter how loudly we say, ‘It’s my own business.’ ”
As we stand in this in-between place of Before Pandemic and After Pandemic, we are not truly existing in isolation. While we may not yet be able to visualize the practicalities and realities of our post-pandemic world, we can be certain that even while we operate in social isolation, our stories and our “beings” are all woven together in a social fabric of connection and belonging.
We, as individuals, as nations, as a planet, are undergoing challenges to our previous ways of being. We certainly do not have all the answers yet for those realities, but one thing we can control is our own individual attentiveness to “being” present where we are. It may be months or years before all of the stories and truths learned from these days will be presented or even manifested. But for now they exist, simmering under the surface, breathing silently in these days of isolation, in these in-between days, waiting for the right time to be unveiled. Each untold story being written right now will have its own perfect time of being.
Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.