Self-isolating during a pandemic well into its second year often makes you feel as if time has stopped moving forward. Each day is like countless days before and will predictably be like days to come, if other days actually come. During our weeks in Sarasota to escape allergy dangers back home, I sometimes struggle to recall what we did before we came here, whether our secluded life there differed from our secluded life here. We frequently ask one another what day of the week it is, and later I check the calendar on my watch or laptop to make sure it's still the same day.
But time itself has not been quarantined. The sun now rises a little later each morning, shifts its position in the sky a tad further south, illuminates our lanai at a slightly different angle. And because we have other family elsewhere in Florida whom we crossed the state to see last weekend, we've had to acknowledge that time is still passing, has passed, will keep passing.
We hadn't seen my sister-in-law—my brother's widow—for over two years and, like many distant relatives avoiding contagion, had missed my brother's funeral a year ago. We met Linda for lunch at a Coral Springs restaurant, the three of us the only customers entering masked. Her daughter and son-in-law and their children, except for a son in graduate school, were militantly unvaccinated, and though I'd known my niece all her life—had subbed as godfather at her christening—I'd worried about transmission if we met them. But only Linda was there, very much thinner now than when we saw her last. She mentioned her many siblings, whom we'd met decades earlier, and reviewed for us the ones still alive and the spouses surviving the ones who had passed. We tried to speak about my brother's death but choked up during our attempt at shared consolation. She knew that her present time was radically different than it had been over a year before; no matter how similar each day now seemed, she was always conscious of the past she carried with her.
That afternoon we drove to Daytona Beach, where our oldest grandchild had started her freshman year of college. At her parents' home in Sarasota, we had been alert to Zola's absence, of course, but her teen-aged brother was often out and about and only her younger sister was there to amuse us—or have us amuse her—with various board games, and so we didn't think too much about where she'd gone until we set off for her college. We went directly to the campus to meet her and her three roommates and treated them to dinner at a good organic restaurant. The girls were chatty and funny and we enjoyed their company. On the following morning we met our granddaughter alone—her roommates slept in—and she gave us a campus tour before we took her to breakfast. On the restaurant patio, we three unmasked and mostly alone, she relaxed for personable conversation. She knew where she was and who she was and whom she was confident she would become. She could fully inhabit the present and was confident of where it would take her into the future.
We returned to Sarasota that day, dropped off our seven-passenger rental car that temporarily replaced the four-passenger Honda Fit our granddaughter drove before college—the coeds all joked at length about learning to drive both stick and automatic and the order in which they'd learned them and in what country—and drove to our daughter's house to share our experiences on the east coast. The grandson was out with friends, and the young granddaughter set up the Herd Your Horses Game (which she won). Her parents enjoyed hearing our impressions of Zola's campus and roommates but were very conscious of having initiated the first stage of Empty Nest Syndrome, that inevitable period when children reach the end of childhood and launch themselves into adulthood—I saw my daughter tear up once after a cheery phone call. There was some comfort in thinking their daughter was handling growing up well.
Memories arose. When my daughter had been her daughter's age, we'd visited her on campus at Penn State her freshman year. On our return home to Michigan, three empty bedrooms and quieter meals reminded us that all our children were now college students. Since then, time has passed steadily, consistently, relentlessly, and now it was passing inexorably again. We would soon be back in Wisconsin, relying on FaceTime to provide a disembodied way to keep in touch with how our children and grandchildren were spending time in the present and moving into the future. We are well aware of how much we needed to remember the past.