In the country, we do not measure time by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years as some never-beginning and never-ending line. No, but by cycles. Dawn-day-dust-night. Phases of the moon. Season. Planting-weeding-harvesting-preserving. Rut-gestation-birth-survival-growth-death. With time, and practice, we develop routines which fit the various spheres of these cycles. And, eventually the wood gets stacked so that the winters can be warm. And, the water bottles get staged by the porch so that we can sake our thirst mid-day in summer.
Linear time does creep into the cycles for the obligations of society. Work requires going to the clinic on certain days. The schedule of clients necessitates seeing them for 45 to 60 minutes each and completing their documentation before clocking out. Every other week, we are responsible to verify our hours works, and in reward we get our pay deposited into the bank account. The funds thereof get sent off for various bills, investments, and mad-money.
Then there are friends, family, visitors, who plan and arrived on certain days, based on their schedules. Meals, conversations, activities occur, often during museum hours or when the curtain rises at the theatre. Time, time, time.
But, a couple of months ago, time began to shift. Millions of people in China were quarantined at home. Factories, business, and universities closed their doors. We watched, obliviously, musing at how the government would never block highways in the USA. Travelers headed off for Spring break at the beaches or over-seas. Cruise ships left port.
Then time shifted. USA citizens who had been in China were flown back and quarantined on military bases on the west coast. Travelers from Italy came home with fevers and coughs. Cruise ships drifted off the coast of California for days waiting for safe harbor and and exit strategy for well and sick passengers.
Then time shifted. The federal and state leaders called for sheltering-in-place, social-distancing, lock-down. For many this began days of isolation, boredom, and loneliness. Some found cleaver ways to interact via technology and social media. For some this resulted in unemployment, with savings flowing out to pay the bills, buy food, and pay for housing. We waited for the anticipated confirmation of positive infections.
Then time shifted. California and Washington state begin to identify individual cases and vulnerable populations in institutional living situations. New York City illustrated how fast a densely populated and international citizenry could rapidly overwhelm a health care system, including some of the largest hospitals and medical schools.
Then time shifted. States which considered their citizens to be at low risk began to set up testing facilities in hospital emergency department parking lots. Travelers came home from vacations, business trips, foreign study programs, mission trips and spring break at the shore. The web of society demonstrated that it can support or strangle.
Then time shifted. Federal and state governors’ offices and legislatures debated financial support for individuals, business, and health care systems. We are learning again that governments do not function without taxes to pay for the promised services. Investors rode the roller-coaster of panic selling and speculative buying as pundits predicted how long businesses would be shut down to protect their workers and customers.
Then time shifted. All this distant deliberation and personal suffering began to affect our out-patient clients. We assessed their risk of coming out for therapy. We set up home programs and recommended that they hold therapy for a few month until the acute phase of the crisis passes. Time became periods of rapid action and prolonged waiting, filling minutes and hours with cleaning, preparing, cleaning, putting away, cleaning.
Then time shifted. We were reassigned to assist on medical units. Cleaning, preparing, cleaning, putting way, cleaning. Eight hour shifts, standing and sitting in hallways as nurses, doctors, respiratory therapist, and housekeeping staff came, put on personal protective equipment, to disappear behind closed doors. We could hear labored breathing, coughing, silence. We could see nothing. Then a door would open. A request made. An errand run. Then labored breathing, coughing, silence. At the end of a shift, eight hours to shower, eat, sleep, then return to walk the halls for eight hours again.
Once a fissure breaks along a fault line, it does not shift back.
After our first weekend of working three eight hours shifts in 40 hours, we returned home. Our first task was to feed the animals. As I put out the food for the goats, I counted not three, but four. In our absence, without our help, the doe had dropped, cleaned, and nurse its kid. Welcome… Corrina. A reminder that regardless of our human use of time, farm life has its own schedule.