I am approaching the anniversary of my pandemic experience. On the second Friday of March last year, I was in the middle of giving a presentation in my AP psychology class when the anticipated announcement came suddenly over the loudspeakers: “The Whitefish Bay School Board has deliberated over every option … we have met with other districts in the area … school will be closed for the next four weeks.”
Cheering erupted from all directions and it was near impossible to pay attention to anything that was said after those words. A surprise month-long vacation – what could be better? As I reflect on the time it took to get from that classroom to here in my bedroom, a gap year student a year later, I notice a curious paradox: looking back, it doesn’t seem like the pandemic started a year ago. In any present moment this past year, time seemed like it had crawled. Time seemed to slow down, in retrospect.
Paradoxes, by definition, can’t be solved, I thought, but I might as well try to understand this one. So, I got more specific, thinking about the pandemic and my time, to try to better understand this slow-time phenomenon. I first recalled the seasons, then the months. Thinking of March and April, I recollected the grand houses I admired on my usual walks around the side streets of the historic East Side. I remembered reconnecting with an old friend in May, June and July, laying in the warm grass at Lafayette Hill, and sitting in a breezy windowsill painting with watercolors.
August, September and October, I recall fondly. I decided to take a gap year because of the pandemic and started work on a farm run by the Hunger Task Force. I spent long days with new friends, harvesting fruits and vegetables while listening to music and having wonderful conversations. These were my kind of people. I asked almost every question that popped into my head and stepped outside of my social anxiety, joining interesting conversations and making as many new friends as possible. I cherished every minute of my time there because, thankfully, I understood it was a special experience while it was happening.
During all this time, in the back of my mind, I was constantly uncertain about the state of the world and even more so about my own life. During this period of reflection, the protests in June and apocalyptic newscasts throughout the year seeped into my memory like ink slowly staining a page. On several occasions throughout the year, I counted down the days until I would board a plane to see my grandparents in Florida only to have the trip cancelled because of the risks. It broke my heart to miss Shabbat dinners with my safta.
After pondering these memories, I think I understand this paradox more clearly now. Maybe it isn’t a paradox at all. We exist in the present, living moment to moment. But when we reflect on the past, we only remember certain moments, giving the illusion of a shorter timeline.
This resolution prompted a nagging afterthought: which moments do we remember? In other words, when we reflect on our lives, which memories will constitute our past?
My life is about to change, and my future is taking shape. Soon, I will be going to Israel as part of a pre-college program, before I start at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in fall. I may be able to spend Passover with my Israeli family.
It feels like the pandemic is inching closer to an end, but I’ll never forget this strange, slow time, and whatever lessons I may learn from it.
HannahRose Mayer is an intern with the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. She will major in biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in fall.