Anchoring time in a COVID world

Time is a funny thing. It can fly by at supersonic speeds, or be slowed to a crawl. And sometimes, it feels like both speeds are happening simultaneously. Anyone who has experienced widowhood or watched their children grow will understand. (For me, it’s the former: Paul has been gone nearly 15 years now; a lifetime ago. But it also feels like just yesterday. How can it be 15 years?)

And so, like many people, I tend to compartmentalise time by anchoring it to events. I have my pre- and post-high school times. My pre- and post-widowhood times. My pre- and post-9/11 times (generally more of a pre- and post-Scotland time, given that’s when I first moved over). And now, pre- and post-COVID* times.

My youngest sister and I had a conversation about this very thing recently. About how “normal” it is to talk about before, during, and after COVID. Especially when talking about things that might be very different now that we’re in the after years. It’s like pre- and post-9/11 times, for those who lived through it, because it’s a shared time anchor. Unlike, for example, my pre- and post-widowhood time anchors that others don’t measure time by.

Much like pre- and post-9/11, stories are often prefaced with or explained by anchoring an event to pre- or post-COVID. Only it seems that COVID time is a little more granular than others. And like many people, my stories are told with an explainer: “Before COVID”, “During the first lockdowns”, “When we started to return to the office”, “After the vaccines”, “When we could travel again”, and all the rest.

Or simply: The Before Times, The Durning Times, and The After Times.

With 9/11, we all watched it happen, but it didn’t happen to us. Sure, some of the changes that took place impacted all of us but most of us were just observers of the “main event” if you will. But with COVID, we were all a part of it. Even if you never got sick, the deadly virus impacted you and your day-to-day life – and in a way that we all shared, to some extent.

I suppose that’s why we anchor our stories and our memories. Because everyone understands and everyone will have similar anchors – even if the things they did or didn’t do during the height of the pandemic were different.

My own experience of The During Times was very different from most people I know, mostly because I lived in isolation far longer than most people. And during the lockdowns, I had the privilege of space – both inside and outside of my home. And even much of my The After Times is different, in part because I am still a masker in many situations (crowds, public transport, etc).

Yet still, I can talk about The Before Times, The During Times, and The After Times with confidence that others understand. Their stories might be different, and the cut-offs for the categories might not match mine, but the anchors are there.

Since COVID, I have added further time anchors to my life. Mainly, the start of a new job, the death of my mother, and the purchase of a new house. And in time, I know there will be more anchors. But I wonder if there will be another set of global time anchors like what COVID brought us. I don’t know, but maybe time will tell…

There’s no point to this post other than my musings about time. I may or may not update and add to these thoughts in the future. You know, as a kind of post-anchor post-script or something. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts about anchoring time.

* We say “post-COVID”, but it’s important to remember that COVID is still here and might be here for years, decades, or centuries to come. Thankfully, it is less deadly now. But it is still here and is very much a threat to some of the most vulnerable in our society.

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