With the neo-liberalist free-market world order staggering, sickened to its marrow by COVID-19, and the masses learning about a brave new world of social distance, reduced exposure and enforced quarantine, something has shifted – as a continent shifts on its tectonic plate, or a pole shifts on its axis.
As 2020 is forced to reconsider precisely what it was that it did so wrong, it becomes apparent that isolation is calming the heady frenetic rush of yesterday, the paranoid rapidity of “what will tomorrow hold?”. A double-shot flat white “on the double” can still be procured (at home), but its viscous virility is increasingly being sidelined for a nice cup of loose-leaf Assam.
It’s as if mankind has gulped an anxious breath, afraid to exhale. And in this temperance of time, a steadying calm prevails.
We are ruled by a harshly benevolent mistress. Flanked and flattered by her sisters, Prescience and Hindsight, Time is regal in her demeanour, overseeing her domain with an imperial haughtiness born of knowing her time and place… every moment of the day.
Hers is a role wrapped in the ermine of control and domination, her work a feature of every countenance of life. Ritual, story, evolution; birth, death and the afterlife – all are corraled by time, the metronomic heartbeat of humanity.
Equal parts “I must do this NOW!” and, “You should take a little time out for yourself…” almost everything we experience in life is cloistered in time. We are governed by the seasons, the tides and patterns of light. Our pulse is timed, our breathing measured, our toes are counted and ageing is incessant.
Few can exist beyond the boundaries she sets and those that do are deep within their own worlds – bare skin on a remote beach, brewing feni in the dim light of seclusion; locked up tight in a no-longer-working mind, time lost in a mental fog that grows ever thicker. Even then the staccato tap of frustration or a constant hum of fear is a giveaway that our bodies forever hold their own beat.
For the rest of us, tick tock…
“How long will it take?”
“What time is dinner?”
“Are we there yet?”
Imagine the hallowed halls of London’s Kings Cross, Changi Airport or the steps of Sydney’s Town Hall without the parameters of time. Could they exist? Would those worlds of connection, of movement and momentum not fragment into untethered ethereal chasms of space without the steady pulse of uniformity and understanding?
Even if mankind, the empath of constructed time, was removed, would nature not still pulse ever onwards, its sequence true, each Fibonacci ratio further evidence of its innate temporal power?
And yet… time is slowing, stuttering and faltering.
Isolated, emptied of obligation and set free from a rabid schedule, I’ve watched veggies grow and nature rot in an elegance of unchartered time; I’ve watched the sun swell, splinter, contract and give birth to the moon, and I’ve witnessed a child learn to absorb beauty through his mind.
I’ve seen bones contort and rust flake, shadows skitter and clouds bleed…
And I am in thrall to the way light plays as if humoured, flitting and twirling through the sky like a child with a balloon…
My appreciation sharpens to an acute awareness of the delicate beauty of the world’s hesitancy and unease. It is timid, delicate and curious, a lesser-known prize sidelined by the more obvious.
Form, alignment, anticipation, repose – all take on a deeper calibration. Bodies swell with age and impending definition, canine minds romp through deep dreams, and alliances strengthen, a shared experience unlikely to be repeated.
We coil into a new pattern of life, once steeped in response rather than reaction, a new understanding of small things that get lost in the big picture. And honestly? I love it.
I breathe differently. I sleep longer and deeper, cushioned in velvety darkness, the bleed of city lights muted, traffic stalled.
But I know that the longer you hold your breath the louder the hammering in your chest becomes, a swelling crescendo of a beat that howls for attention. I am loath to kowtow to this bullying tone, but I am increasingly aware that the time is coming…
Perhaps, with Prescience missing in action, Hindsight will be a guiding light in how to re-engage with a world once more constricted and strangled by Time.