COVID, TIME, YOU, ME, & BOB TALKSOn July 27, 2020 by Bob Talks
The continued weight of the Covid-19 pandemic rests heavily on my shoulders, as it does on this entire country and, indeed, the world. It saps our energy and zaps our patience. Like a dark cowl, this pandemic hovers, hangs, and haunts, while continuing to rage and wreck its devastating damage. It seems as if every day things get more and more serious. It’s like a run-away train without a conductor or brakeman.
Added to this burden, we also suffer, at the same time, the havoc caused by a dysfunctional president, who is incapable to providing the leadership so desperately needed. Additionally, we are faced with a volatile, collapsing economy, with more and more jobs lost, businesses closed, and millions unemployed. While the pandemic increases, the president’s incompetence more and more apparent, and the continued economic gloom, the grotesque face of racism and divisiveness add a troubling fourth dimension to our national crises. It’s a perfect storm, brought on by four hurricane-like winds sweeping the land. Certainly, some are more seriously impacted than others by each of these crises, but we are all, in one way or another, sucked into the whirlwind. We are not shielded from the on-going threats each pose.
The reality of all four of these crises is ever-present and ever-pressing. Nevertheless, there is also the bright hope that Trump will be soundly defeated in November. There is also the sense that our country will correct itself from the ugly, divisive course it has been on these past years. There is hope. Google “Sing Gently” by a Virtual Choir and hear the hope—“Sing Gently Together.”
I am quick to admit that, at this stage in my life, I have much for which to be grateful. I’m blessed. Sue and I have, thus far, escaped the virus, we enjoy good health for our ages, and our hunkered- down position is comfortable, even frequently enjoyable. To be sure, we miss traveling to see our families and we have cancelled many plans. Compared to so many who have faced or are facing the brutal realities of these crises, we are indeed fortunate. Nevertheless, our concerns and worries are very real and very concerning. These are troublesome times. They are emotionally and psychologically draining.
In this context, I’ve been thinking a lot about time. It’s an elusive topic, difficult to comprehend. We talk about “wasting time,” “making time,” “wishing we had more time,” “wondering how to stop the rapid rate of time,” “where has all the time gone,” or “time out of mind.” The hard truth of the matter is that we have no control over time. It has no moral compass, it’s not concerned about us, and it’s not interested in how we use or don’t use it. It just IS. It’s a force of energy that exists outside our own power. That is humbling.
Time is somewhat like Covid-19. Both exist independent from us and yet both impact us and control us in more ways than we fully understand. The looming and all-important question is: How do we respond to each? How do we respect time? How do we interact with this virus? These are, of course, interrelated questions that demand our individual and collective answers. Unfortunately, I fear far too many are not responding in a way that will abate the spread of the virus. Those people who flaunt their noses at the virus are, perhaps, the same people who do not take time seriously. Are the people who have made wearing a mask a political-rights issue the same who refuse to accept that finally the time has come to end racism in this country? Is there a correlation?
The recent death of the great, gentle, and incredible leader, John Lewis, whom I had the honor of meeting, represents the polar opposite of Trump. The remarkable courage and determination of John Lewis are resounding beacons of hope. It is long past time to honor his legacy by shedding the oppressive shroud of racism once and for all.
At this time and place, I feel two contradictory, paradoxical and clashing concepts about time. On the one hand, I have a feeling that time has slowed down to a turtle’s pace during this pandemic. Time seems almost static, frozen, suspended, as if it is not moving ahead at all. On the other hand, the grim fact that more are getting infected each day and more are dying creates a sense that time has sped up at an accelerated pace. I feel caught in the vice of these two extremes. Do any of you have this same sense
When I was much younger and more foolish, I felt I had all the time in the world. I often repeated a line from one of my favorite writers, Henry David Thoreau. Somewhere in Walden he wrote : “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in….” There is a calmness, a patience, even a luxury about such an attitude toward time. In fact, he suggests that time has a spiritual dimension, which we often overlook—its sacred timelessness. I feel much more urgent about it now. It’s not a panic or high state of anxiety, but there is this sense that time is a precious and limited resource, not to be taken frivolously. I realize that time lost cannot be recovered. I also resent that the four burdens we are currently facing—the pandemic, the president, the economic plight, and racism—steal our precious time. I can’t go see our grandchildren, and that is lost time. More importantly, there are other pressing challenges that we need to address, such as the increasing threat of climate change. We are dramatically losing time in solving this. In fact, we are distracted by all the other threats.
It’s this sense of urgency, as well as other factors, that have led me to develop the website called BobTalks.Me. At this stage of my life (rapidly approaching 78), I have an increased need to connect and to “reach out and touch someone.” I want you and me to create some space in time while there is still time left to unite and be together on some level. It may be sentimental or wishful thinking, but it’s my honest need to be part of a larger human community. I created BobTalks.Me for that purpose. The “Me” is, of course, both you and I. I invite you to share in this endeavor. For me, talking about literature is a vehicle for connecting.
Literature, indeed all of art, is a conduit that unites us to the past, the future, and brings us together as part of the human community. I believe that we are all interrelated and interdependent in some ways. We often do not comprehend, understand, or even admit this timeless connectivity. Sometimes we even deny it or wish to ignore it. Some even seek to destroy it. But it’s there. Art is about connectivity. There is a link between Homer’s Ulysses and Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, which carries on to Joyce’s Ulysses. There is a thread that joins the morality plays of the Middle Ages to Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin roof. Literature invites us to examine those threads, those connections. When we enter the incredible imagination of Melville’s masterpiece, Moby Dick, we enter a world we could not have known. From that experience, we are aligned and allied—you and I become part of a much larger universe. From that alignment, we expand our understanding, our ability to be compassionate, and our common humanness. The circle of life is enhanced and mended, and that circle brings us around to what came before and to what will come in the future.
Does this make any sense to you or do you even care? The “delete” key is easy and painless. While all this does matter to me, I don’t fully understand it. I also realize that my passion for literature may not be your passion at all. Ever since I picked up my first Hardy Boys’ novel as a young boy and read it, I was hooked. I spent the rest of my life reading. I also spent a good part of this life teaching about literature and trying to understand why it matters. BobTalks.Me is my effort to sort through all the ways and days of this passion for literature, to frame it somehow, to reach some coherent framework. More importantly, it’s my desire to share this with you. It invites you to become part of the process. Hopefully, you’ll learn something about literature, about life, about yourself, and maybe even sense this connection I’m projecting. You may also find it enjoyable. In his wonderful collection of essays, My Reading Life, Pat Conroy explains why he writes as follows: “The most powerful words in English are ‘tell me a story,’ words that are intimately related to the complexity of history, the origins of language, the continuity of the species, the taproot of our humanity, our singularity, and art itself” (from the essay “Why I Write”). Those are fitting words on which to conclude my ramblings. Thank you for your attention. Until we meet again, stay well and alert.
Bob & Sue