She sits on the sidewalk near the place where I get my mail. Sometimes she’s on the other side of the street, sometimes I have to walk around her. It’s obvious she hasn’t bathed in a long time. She is aggressively involved in many conversations with invisible people, who are clearly not invisible to her. Either they are late, or they have shown up unexpectedly, interrupting her; sometimes they have angered her and she is going to take out restraining orders. One day, someone called the police because she was screaming loudly at the invisible people and children were getting frightened (adults too, I imagine, although probably none of them admitted to that.) The police officer tried to get someone from the mental health division to take her in but that apparently didn’t work out because she was there the next day.

Since most of her tirades have to do with the schedules of her invisible friends, I started thinking about time. If not for her, my thoughts might not have turned in that direction.. For someone living on the street, time is simply the passage of the sun across the sky, the fall of night that ushers in more dangers, the length of time between food and an empty stomach. It isn’t filled with obligations, responsibilities, hours set aside for relaxing or checking in with friends.

Time has changed for all of us in this pandemic. Some people have been left with too many empty hours — time has stretched out endlessly, a constant reminder of what they have lost in this hard, grief-stricken year. Others have felt overwhelmed, with children at home doing school work on computers and asking for help. Or with work obligations transferred to zoom calls and virtual meetings. For far too many people, time has stopped them in their tracks when a loved one fell ill from Covid and died, often alone.

It’s hard in so many situations to find gratitude, to reflect graciously on time. But I think we must. Whether you’re mourning what’s been lost, or who has been lost, or you are trying to juggle way too many things at once, you have people in your life who you care about and who care about you. You have love in your life. Flesh and blood love, even if you’re six feet away from many of them. You share time with them — not with invisible people but with fellow travelers on this pilgrimage we call life. Time is not reduced to a matter of survival, of scraping through another day, of looking for bits of food and falling asleep on concrete sidewalks. It’s full even when it might seem like it’s empty.

We will look back on this time from so many different angles. We’ll look back on the tears and loss, on the overwhelming grief of people dying alone without loved ones to hold their hands. We’ll look back on food lines and people losing their homes. But maybe we can also look back on the ways we’ve learned to smile with our eyes and on moments of tenderness between strangers. Maybe we’ll look back on the times that seemed empty and realize they were full of life. Maybe we’ll see that we didn’t just survive this pandemic, we learned to reach out more toward gratitude, and to drink in every moment that’s given to us.

One Response to STREET TIME

  1. You state universal truths now. A striving for unity seems to have brought you a great distance from your youthful activism and dissent. How do you feel about those ideals now?

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