It’s as the good Doctor says: “Time is wibbly.”1 We like to think it moves straight — ever forward in a quantifiable succession of intervals — but it doesn’t. It wraps around us like light bending in prism, unfurling its colors according to the density and shape of the glass. Just so, time speeds up and slows down in our stories. We each live on our own little roller coasters, blindfolded riders, not drivers, and the rail we clutch to brace ourselves is not actually a steering wheel no matter how hard we yank it. But enough already of the metaphorical mumbling … back to the lockdown.
Life came to a screeching stop in the middle of March when my one-week holiday ended and the COVID tsunami finally hit South Africa. We figured out a way to kick start virtual school within a couple days, but the overall pace of life was almost unrecognizable. A few hours of online school a day become my only responsibility, and life got very slow and very quiet. Watching the grass grow became an actual thing … though I did “branch out” a bit to watching tree colors change and leaves fall. Sounds faded. The crazy family that lived above me left town before lockdown, car traffic almost disappeared, and aircraft became so rare as to be a cause for alarm. (What could possibly be happening that a helicopter is in the air?!)
For six solid weeks, I stayed within a half-mile radius of my house, driving only as far as the grocery store around the corner for food. The rest of life was tucked into my little apartment. From work to workouts, virtual game nights to culinary experiments, I was alone in my space. I even started to like it. (More on that next time.) When, towards the end of April, a friend suggested that we meet up and do some socially-distant aisle walking together (!) at the grocery store closer to her house … two miles away … I actually felt a touch panicky on the drive there.
In May, the government started easing up on the restrictions, and life accelerated ever so slightly. Outdoor exercise again became legal and I started walking laps around my complex in the brisk, fall mornings. My virtual school world inched towards the finish line with virtual classes, virtual assemblies, virtual final assessments, virtual graduation, virtual farewell parties and TGIF’s … virtually like the real thing … virtually. I cried a fair few buckets of tears those last two weeks — not just because of the hug-less goodbyes, not just because of the surreal reconfiguring of school final rituals, but because it FELT like it would NEVER END.
But it did end. On Friday June 5th, I clicked “Leave Meeting” from my school Zoom account for the last time and went to bed that night wondering how I would find a way out of South Africa before my visa expired in July. After three months cocooned, how would I break out? Airports were still closed, domestic travel forbidden and international travel restricted to special repatriation flights only. As of that weekend, there were none scheduled to the US in June. Even so … I had a sense that I needed to get ready to go …
MONDAY, June 8
1) AM: Check on flights … nothing.
2) Call the moving company and schedule the packers to come on Thursday.
3) Prep the paperwork to sell my car to a friend of a friend.
4) Organize stuff into “things to give away” and “things to take with”.
5) PM: Check on flights … announcement! “Possible flight to D.C. leaving Sunday. Register online before Wednesday. Payment instructions and seat confirmation to follow.” I registered.
TUESDAY, June 9
1) Keep sorting and organizing.
2) Meet friends in parking lots to give away things I would leave behind.
3) Get the car cleaned.
4) Check flight status … no word.
WEDNESDAY, June 10
1) Sell my car.
2) Cancel my e-Toll account.
3) Meet more friends.
4) Finish prepping the house before the packers.
5) Move over to Robyn’s guest room.
6) Check flight status … no word.
THURSDAY, June 11
1) Spend 5 hours helping the packers box up the things to ship.
2) Help other friends haul off the things to stay.
3) Keep cleaning.
4) Check flight status … no word.
FRIDAY, June 12
1) Spend the morning supervising the packers as they load the shipment. (It was 33oF / 1oC!)
2) Keep cleaning the apartment.
3) Keep meeting friends for goodbyes and give-aways.
4) Cancel my phone contract.
5) Check flight status … no word.
SATURDAY, June 13
1) Sleep in! I still had no word on the flight. I had re-registered twice during the week, but still no payment information. Still no confirmation it would even leave on Sunday. Since the departure was less than 36 hours away, I began to accept that I might not be leaving so soon. My friend Robyn is a generous and flexible hostess. Though my place was packed up, I could stay with her as long as I needed … so I relaxed a little. I didn’t even get out of my pjs until after noon.
2) Spend some more quasi-legal quality time with friends in the afternoon. They drove down from Pretoria and we picnicked in my almost-empty apartment.
3) Check email … just in case … there is PAYMENT INFO! That evening, the information on how to pay for the flight finally landed in my inbox. I had hours to pay and send proof to the contact listed in the email. He then sent me a ticket and seat number for the flight leaving the next day.
4) Race around that night saying a last handful of goodbyes.
SUNDAY, June 14
8am: Robyn drives me to the rendezvous point. I do not have enough hands for all my luggage.
10am: Board a bus to the airport. Ours is the only flight there. Sniffer dogs check the bags.
12:00: Board the airplane. I had asked for a window seat but I got an aisle. Good thing … four seats all for me, all for sleeping. (I took the pic below before everyone had finished boarding.)
12:30: Take off!
And just like that, life changed. Dramatically.
The real lesson in it all — the theme that I cannot seem to shake — is this:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.2 Peter 3:8
When I think of things that are accomplished slowly over a thousand years — over an era, a lifetime, or a generation — I tend to think that speeding them up would be impossible. Mountains take time … cultures take time … children take time … change takes time … doesn’t it? But no. In this crazy pandemic experience of watching the world turn upside down overnight and waiting around to uproot my life in less than a week, I am reminded that God can do in a moment that which I assume must take time. “He is not slow in keeping His promises,” so be patient and be ready.
1. “Doctor who,” you say? You know, Who!