If you created a time capsule right now, what would you put in it?
A few days ago I spoke to my friend over the phone. This is the only way we can talk. She told me she cut a recipe out of a newspaper and placed it inside a Corona bottle alongside a poem she wrote, a letter from a penpal and the receipt from when a tow truck rescued her car out near Green Oaks. She drove there recently seeking comfort and got stuck in the mud.
Her time capsule made me think about what I would put in mine. I thought about the mask I wear everyday as I walk my dog and how it makes my breath fog my glasses. I thought about how, someday, this outdoor necessity will become a relic, something I dig up in an old drawer. I thought about how I am going to remember this time period.
What you are now reading is the first installment of a weekly column that aims to distill takeaways of the quarantine experience as my perspective—one saturated by privilege but also the news cycle, phone conversations with friends and classmates, the recurring isolation of a remote college term—develops over time. I also hope that this column may join, to some extent, my experience with others.
We are living through an incredibly historic moment. For that reason, it is tempting to treat the present with a historical sense, to curate the time capsules and stories that, years from now, we’ll break open and share with those who were not here.
But as much as I want to capture what this was like, I want to first be mindful of what this is like now and what I may learn from it.
Which is to say, a couple of days ago I unrolled my yoga mat onto the floor of my parent’s guest room, pressed my palms into the ground and lifted my legs. The woman on my laptop screen guiding me into a downward-dog pose told me, “The step backwards is just as important as the step forwards.”
This particular “step back” is extreme.
I am nervous when I think about losing the summer internship that was supposed to jumpstart my career and I am miserable when I think about the relationships I cannot build this spring term or find closure to. Just like every other Knox student and person in the world, it feels like all of my plans straight ran into a glass door I didn’t know was there and now they’re sliding lower and lower down the pane.
That’s not to mention what I struggle with pales against what nurses, doctors, victims of the virus and their family members, those who have lost their jobs and those without shelters-to-stay-in experience everyday as this pandemic stretches on.
The pandemic clearly does not allow us to do so many things. So I want to ask: What does the pandemic allow us to do? An extreme can illuminate a demand for balance we otherwise forego during our regularly scheduled programs.
On a societal level, I am hopeful that the crisis will usher an expedited transition out of our dependence upon fossil fuels and reveal, with undeniable clarity, the need to reform our healthcare system. I am hopeful this crisis will recognize the workers that were always essential to our economy and prove our ability as citizens to band together for the commonwealth rather than fetishize our personal “freedoms”.
On an individual level, this crisis has forced me to slow down. At college we operate within the framework that the time, work and money we are spending is an investment that will pay off in the future. Our experiences on campus and in classrooms are invaluable but this dramatic change from that environment has shown me how much I obsess over the future and, in doing that, struggle to define when the work I do is ever “enough”.
Now as each day looks no different than the last, I am exploring how I can find more meaning in the work I do as I am doing it—instead of fixing meaning upon a later payoff. I think this pandemic has served as unforgettable testimony to the naivety of hanging your well-being on some upcoming arrival and always expecting the future to arrive as planned.
This pandemic has opened up a Pandora’s Box of new and justified anxieties but in this one area I have found myself incapable of keeping up the usual stream of anxious calculations. There is just no point to eyeing every curve adjustment and rumor of an effective vaccine until the definitive information we need arrives at its later date.
In the past, the irrationality of stressing over that which ‘you have no way of knowing how it will turn out’ never stopped me. But I think the overwhelming size of the pandemic has made it a little bit easier for me to give up my resistance to rationality and know that this goes beyond me, it affects everyone.
Of course, as much as I want to find some value in remaining locked inside I still struggle with what to do with the perspectives I shore up.
I have long considered myself someone who enjoys being alone and someone who enjoys the self-reflection that being alone is good for. But quarantine has shown me how little the products of self-reflection can feel meaningful if you have nowhere to bring them. My perspective may change, but the view from the desk I studied upon in highschool does not. In quarantine, I cannot bound out of Seymour Library or stumble into someone in the Gizmo, test what I have learned in the world by learning, organically, from others.
But if the question is what to do with this time, the answer is you do what you can.