What percentage of your life have you spent in a pandemic?

I’ve been thinking about this since reading a related blog post this morning. The author points out that the pandemic has occupied nearly 4% of his life as a forty year old. As someone who just turned 36, the pandemic has occupied around 4.5% of my life. I was struck recently when a friend responded to my increasingly nostalgic musings about Cambridge by pointing out that nearly half of the four years I’d been in Cambridge have been lived under the pandemic.

Why is this interesting? In both cases I was left with the realisation that on some level I’ve been imagining pandemic temporality as an interruption to the passage of time. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The bluntness of these calculations helps nudge us out of that outlook, with their stark reminder that the months and years which pass under uncertain conditions still involve months and years passing at the rate they always did:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

This is not an interlude. It’s not a refrain. It’s not a precursor to a ‘new normal’. It seems inarguable that exogenous shocks will become an ever more common feature of life, for those who have always existed with uncertainty as well as those who could “float freely in our undisturbed balance”. I suspect the sense of interruption comes in part from a recognition that the conditions of our live exceed our capacity to influence them, leading the horizon of our agency to contract. My concern is that the conditions for a subsequent reopening might never come.

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