Hope & Time

Time is not a constant entity. This much, even a lay person knows (a child can recite E = MC2, even if they don’t exactly know what it means). It’s affected by gravity — time at sea level moves a little slower than time in the stratosphere.

I’ve been feeling how relative time is — what amorphous shape it takes without the daily routines to anchor it.

Without the gravitational forces of appointments, meetings, place to be, classes to teach, people to see — without these things to orbit around, it becomes something that can’t be pinned down by labels. Yes, it is a Thursday. Yes, it is three o’clock. But only in theory. Only on paper.

It is only in the subtle shifts in my internal clock, my circadian rhythm suddenly out of sync with when stores close — how can it already be 8 pm? The sun is still out! — that I realize I had slid away from the short, cold days of winter.

Just like that, I stumble into the longest days of the year: days I longed for like a deserted lover during the depths of January. I stumble into it, the same way a monogamous lover stumbles upon a cheating partner: with a dawning realization the world has been different for way longer than you’ve been aware of it.

I stumbled in month 3 of lockdown. I still remember the hysterical to-do lists I would make in March, desperate to keep my mind on something other than the death knoll of my career, the aching dread, the fear, the tears, the loneliness — crossing off items with glee, writing in items just to cross them off, as if to prove my productivity even when I’m out of work. I anchored myself with house projects, orbiting them like a sun into a black hole, getting faster with each rotation. And — like that — every project I had once sighed over, waxing sentimental about how I’d someday do it, was completed. Gardens weeded. Overgrown areas outright leveled. Walls primed and painted. Items organized.

And — like that — it’s month 3. The baseline has been raised accordingly. Going to the grocery store isn’t an emotional ordeal anymore. I’m even swinging by for “just a few things” again — with my mask on, walking past the barricade set up in case the store is at capacity and I have to wait in line. In this tiny town, I thankfully never do. And the cheerful voice actor lady reminding people over the intercom to follow CDC guidelines the same way she used to remind people about a sale on sodas has stopped feeling so gut-wrenchingly apocalyptic.

It’s month 3. Just like that. I have found my own routine. I tend to my garden. Tend to my baby chickens. I release a short story collection and dive into its preparation. I’m even back at hiking. Back in the mountains, a place that provides unrelenting catharsis and solace. I’m planning out hikes — harder, intricate hikes — that maybe, just maybe, I can do later in the summer, if a second wave doesn’t hit, if officials continue to give hikers the cautious green light forward.

I’m doing my best not to lose my own shape in this new concept of time. In a span of mere weeks, I had received confirmation that I might be out of work until 2021. Maybe forever. Four clients are canceling all wellness activities for the rest of the year. One client — the last one to continue classes in an online setting — has dropped the number of classes to one.

In some ways, it is a relief. What made March and April so tough was not the paralyzing uncertainty, but the hope. Hope is the ultimate double-edged sword. The nuclear power that can both provide electricity to the city and level it to the ground. It’s why I see Dante’s sign above Hell — abandon all hope, ye who enter — not as a threat, but as advice. The same way the pit in The Dark Knight Rises gives the illusion of escape. Dashed hope is its own personal hell: holding out, believing that there will be redemption, that things will come around, all the while fearful that you will be disappointed, you get will hurt.

The destruction of hope is a type of redemption. Confirmation of your fears means they don’t exist in the ether anymore. They are forced into this three-dimensional reality, where their powers are finite. Now you know there is not going to be an 11th-hour redemption, that things will not get better, that people will not change. Now you know, and now it’s just a matter of what you are going to do with that information.

The beauty, though, is the loss of hope is not as paralyzing as uncertainty. I have no hope for my country, but I still fight viciously for end of systemic racism, for the accountability of police officers and the complete dismantling of the law enforcement system as we currently have it (I have already learned that you can’t tip-toe around the flowers, hoping to weed out only the bad things. Sometimes reclamation is violent).

I have no hope for my career, and yet I devote myself to my animals, to the land, to the sources of love in my life. A wonderful and supportive husband. Soul sisters to unload with. The mountains, with their absorbent quality, always taking in what I’m radiating out, even if what I’m radiating is exhaustion and disdain for the trail.

I joke I’m on sabbatical to write my next novel. And maybe I will. I’m slowly refocusing my efforts back to my first love: writing. I’m willing to try for the agency search again — even sending out a few queries, which feel not unlike sending a love letter to a black hole. I’m willing to edit the two manuscripts waiting in the wings — maybe even publish one of my them, myself, even though I keep swearing I’m done with indie publishing. The response to my short story collection has been overwhelmingly positive and it gives me — oh, dare I say it? — hope.

Maybe hope is the wrong word. Hope can be dashed. Energy. Energy is a better word. Hope can be taken away from you. But energy can be used. Utilized. Energy has its equivalency in mass. And in these longer, summer days, maybe it’s time for me to move at the speed of light.

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