In my home there are three large, visible clocks. One is radio-controlled, one is battery operated and the third is a Victorian mantel clock, and none of them work, while all of them should.
They worked before and so I was mystified, moving them around, replacing batteries or the clocks themselves in my efforts to see the time as I worked in the kitchen particularly or sat in other rooms, but without success. It was only recently, in the quiet of the Coronavirus shutdown, that I realised that time was changing and that there was no need to know the time all the time – or most of the time. So, time had removed itself from me and I had not noticed.
I put a picture where the big kitchen clock had hung, and with the resulting new calm energy in the room saw how the reminder of time had influenced my activities far more than I had known: it told me how long to spend at breakfast, reminded me of what I had to do, when something should happen, and I am shocked how often I still “watch the clock” even after it has gone. It influenced visitors too, who would glance at the clock often as it monitored how long they stayed and when they should leave. If ever we have guests again, their stay may be more leisurely without that reminder of passing time.
The new world in which we find ourselves has changed time in a number of ways. For many people even working from home there is a blurring of time as days merge and weekends resemble any other day. A new rhythm of life has developed which is more personal and often relaxed, structured around a daily walk perhaps with a dog, reading, family meals together and talking to friends remotely because we want to not as a duty. There is quiet time and more active time, less busy-ness dictated by a timetable, gentler getting up and earlier going to bed as the pace of life has become a meander.
Some people are resisting that new way of life, organising Zoom parties at a set time or trying to involve their contacts in time-consuming joint activities like chain poems or chain recipes, and it is interesting to see how many of those friends are resisting these attempts by others to fill their time, time that they want to be free and leisurely not constrained, as far as possible, by appointments however remote or social they may be.
For other people, the enforced new routine means boredom or loneliness, time dragging and nothing to fill it with, while for others still – the vulnerable and the deprived – the new emptiness brings danger and tension. The changing time brings challenge and opportunity to each of us as we react to it in ways that reflect our learnings and calling.
Apart from losing my prominent reminders of time, the three weeks of lockdown so far have been salutary for me in many ways, and I have spent some time thinking about what I miss of the old world and what changes I may wish to make in any new normal. I am fortunate in that a core structure in my life that is my work continues as usual, for it is an important part of my life, but otherwise I miss nothing and I am grateful for the new freedom and timelessness that has augmented what was an already peaceful life and that I intend to continue if I can.
In two months or six months I may feel differently, and I am very, very aware that this is a time of suffering for many people. It is a time for sober, loving reflection: in our isolation we must not forget those less fortunate than we are and I try to remember this every day.
It will be many months before a viable safe vaccine is found and there is a significant return to social activity, and the periodic return of COVID-19 or its successor will mean that the frantic pace of life as it was six months ago is unlikely ever to return. There will be less travel, more working from home, more schooling from home, sadly fewer jobs and less spending money, a more subdued way of socialising, few sports and no mass gatherings.
People will have more time, and the challenge will be what they do with it: some will accept the situation with equanimity and use it wisely, while others may rebel at what they judge to be an unfair infringement of their rights. There could be social unrest in time to come as they try to claim back the old normal without seeing the truth, that there is no going back.
Time meanwhile in itself is changing, both accelerating and standing still as we hurtle down the most eventful year we have seen in our lifetimes and yet find our lives directed more and more by the rising of the sun and the moon. Time as we have known it is ending just as life as we have known it is ending also. It must be so as humanity moves from its personality absorption to manifest in its soul being – for that is what this is all about.
How each of us reacts to the challenges implicit in this great initiation will determine our individual future, our service and our place in the Plan of God. This is far more than a viral crisis, it is a spiritual revolution created by us for the world, and for our salvation.