The stoppage of time

Disassembled watch components spread out on flat surface.
col_adamson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

At the beginning of pandemic, my watch battery died.

No, I am not making up that coincidence; within two weeks of going into lockdown, my already slowing battery ground to a halt, and I wasn't about to risk contracting a frightening virus by venturing out to replace it.

The watch stayed lifeless for 16 months, gathering dust on top of my dresser next to my wedding and engagement rings, all relics of a not-too-distant yet now-inconceivable routine where I'd put them on each morning before catching a train and heading into the office. In the before times, the only occasion where I'd leave my watch off for an extended period was whenever I found myself on a beach vacation; in such a setting, I found that unmooring myself from the knowledge of passing hours enhanced my relaxation. Now, however, I left it untouched because time had unmoored itself from me, and I did not wish to remind myself hour by hour, minute by minute, of that discomfiting shift.

In her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, author Katherine May writes:

There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world, and sometimes they open up and you fall through them into somewhere else. Somewhere Else runs at a different pace to the here and now, where everyone else carries on. Somewhere Else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere Else exists at a delay, so that you can’t quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already teetering on the brink of Somewhere Else anyway; but now I fell through, as simply and discreetly as dust sifting between the floorboards. I was surprised to find that I felt at home there. Winter had begun.

The prolonged pandemic isolation was for me a personal winter, as it was for so many people, and as the months dragged on, my watchless wrist came to symbolize my Somewhere Else. My daily routines slowly evolved to incorporate more toddler time, less commute time, different chore schedules. I had more time to cook but took less enjoyment in it. Outside of my work day, I rarely checked the time because I had no one to meet and nowhere to be. Instead I watched the daylight hours wax and wane according to the season; I felt my energy ebb and flow in response to pregnancy; and I never bothered putting "fix watch" on my to-do list because truly, there was no point.

That is, I didn't bother until two weeks ago, when the reality of the new baby's looming due date spurred me to address many lingering, pandemic-delayed tasks in a burst of productivity that I hadn't experienced since March 2020. The process took a quick trip to a jeweler and cost $25, and there it was ticking back to life, my trusty silver watch, my constant companion until it wasn't.

I haven't started wearing it again, though. I first chalked up my avoidance to uncomfortable swelling from summer heat and pregnancy, but that's not entirely true. The fact is, I don't know that I'm ready to reenter a time-keeping world, and I'm coming up with other excuses for delaying what I don't want to be inevitable but increasingly feel will be.

Here's May again from Wintering: "It’s a kind of sympathetic magic to handle something so pointless with such reverence: I am tending to the dead, gently laying to rest a set of values for which I no longer have any use." My watch is ticking again, but what about my relationship to time? What values about marking, measuring, and using this finite resource have I discarded—or assumed—since entering my Somewhere Else? And once I identify those values, what if anything do I intend to do about them?

Thanks to my upcoming maternity leave (another flavor of Somewhere Else), I have plenty more unmoored days, hours, and minutes ahead of me to contemplate where I've landed in this mysterious plane. New routines will emerge; new commitments will surface; old obligations might falter. My task right now is not to watch the seconds tick by, but to let the river of time carry me toward surprise—and if I'm fortunate, toward revelation.

Prayer #368: No Longer of the Essence

I have signed no contract. Added no clause. Agreed to nothing that I ever understood as binding. My time is essential to me and me alone, and only I must be satisfied with the terms under which I spend it.

God of cosmic scale, help me not keep time but release it, to loosen my grip on the hour glass and instead experience the soft flow of sand between my fingers, soothing in its silkiness, comforting in its constant movement, freeing in its uncountability.