In March or April, if you tried to buy toilet paper, yeast, and sanitizer you probably found an empty shelf in the store. The COVID-19 quarantine sent people into a panic over these things, and they disappeared from stores. There’s another hard-to-find quarantine item that you wouldn’t guess: sidewalk chalk. If you tried to buy sidewalk chalk in the spring you’d end up disappointed. I snatched up one set, in April, but since then my second try was back-ordered. As the virus kept us close to home families decided to go out to, at least, write messages and pictures on sidewalks.
When we’re outside, our family sometimes draws with chalk. Along with walks, kicking the soccer ball in the yard, and flying kites, it’s something we can do now. We might not be able to go to the zoo now, but we can make chalk drawings. So, we draw superheroes. We draw luchadors. We draw regular pleas for the neighbors to give us donuts. We made some basic drawings; we made some beautiful drawings. What they all have in common is they’re temporary. An oil painting may, with the right care and conservation, last thousands of years. An outdoor chalk drawing lives only a few days. Some we drew only made it a couple of hours, and rain took them away in a stream of colors down the gutter. I looked out the window during a recent rain and saw a drawing collapse as colors flowed down the driveway. The next day I looked for it, but it was gone.
This time of quarantine seems timeless to me. I have to remind myself what day it is. I regularly check the calendar to see what place of the month we’re at. The quarantine has lasted a long time, but yet I can’t place the time. I don’t know when the end, whenever all restrictions are limited and the virus is gone, will come. Yet I know, this time will end. One day we’ll look back and say, “Remember that time,” and we’ll recall the challenges and strange blessings of all this. I’ll remember the meals cooked, the home haircuts, and the time outside drawing with chalk. I wonder if we’ll miss it. I know this is a time of suffering for many, a time of insecurity and sickness, a time of grief and loss. I wonder, though, if we’ll be strangely nostalgic for this season, missing the bubbles we all lived in, the closeness and companionship of hunkering down together through the storm. One night a week or two ago, while I was making dinner for the family, I felt a strange sadness pass over me, a sadness of realizing this moment was temporary. One day we’ll all walk from these bubbles back to whatever normalcy emerges down the road. One day time will wash this all away.
With a two-year-old in our family, people often tell me to enjoy this time. Parents of adult children tell me to appreciate this age, that it passes quickly. I’m so constantly tired, trying to take care of him and the rest of my life, and the words seem strange to me, but a deeper part of me knows they’re right. A part of me hopes for the time when I can take a nap and not worry about the little guy, but another part of me knows this older advice is true, that I’ll miss these moments. One day our child, who reaches for the car keys in jest, will sit behind the wheel of the car and drive down his own road, and I’ll wonder what happened to those days when he was little and we were drawing on the sidewalks with chalk.
When I was younger, the days were an endless reservoir of possibility. When a person is 22, she or he doesn’t think, “I’ve only got so much time here.” Now, though, I think about time. Isn’t the lie we tell ourselves in a mid-life crisis that if we just get back to that moment of youth, then we’ll find the endless possibility? If we just buy that sports car or get back to that youthful weight, then we’ll find that fountain of limitless days, where life is a credit card of endless spending without ever a bill coming due. I know, though, that the days pass on; one fades to the next. One moment can’t be held for too long if I want to welcome the next. The things that are left from each passing moment are the memories and the love we show one another.
A few weeks ago our family went for a walk, and our little boy wanted to look at some birds. He invited us to all sit in the grass and look at some robins, and we did. Sitting on the ground and feeling the grass blades between my fingers, we watched the bird and I thought, “This is good. Appreciate this. Don’t let this moment pass you by.” So I did my best to appreciate the moment even as it quickly passed.
These days, which feel timeless, are chalk drawings, soon to be washed away in time. One moment gives way to the next moment. One day is washed away as the next begins.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict