There is an old Saturday Night Live sketch where Jerry Seinfeld plays Superman and is being interrogated by someone who asks him why he didn’t solve a particular crime, end world hunger, stop poverty, racism, war. The man says something like: “Why didn’t you just do ____? I mean, come on, it would take you 15 minutes.”
Superman/Jerry Seinfeld replies: “Look, let’s get one thing straight. Virtually nothing takes 15 minutes. Nothing.” I felt that he said a great truth there. My mother used to tell me that it took 10 years to get from 20 to 30. I had no idea what she was talking about, I wasn’t even 20 yet but later, much later, I did.
We live in a world in which ‘instant’ is equated with good. People thought that the coronavirus restrictions would go on forever because they thought they had already lasted ‘forever’. They panicked. Some lost their shit. Some thought they should kidnap and kill a Governor in Michigan because she wanted people to wear small, flexible face masks. Come on, folks, that was 14 months, soup to nuts. In a human life some people don’t even begin teething in that time. I had some inside info on it that I found curiously reassuring because I picked up a book on remainders 20 years ago called “The Flu”. Because of my particular assumptions in life I thought it would be science fiction but it turned out to be a nonfiction book, a relatively short one, about The Spanish Flu. What struck me about it was the Afterword where I learned that two years after this devastating worldwide pandemic, it was as if it had never happened. Epidiemological research aside, we learned exactly nothing. People went back to the same hygiene or lack thereof, transported soldiers all over the world in exactly the same ways that had spread the flu, racist and xenophobic reactions remained, as we have seen, intact. Lack of scientific understanding, weird superstitions, terrible fear reactions were repeated verbatim 100 years later. When things opened up again people sidled up to the crowded bars in such great numbers and so often that other people actually thought that Prohibition was a happening idea.
While we were inside this time though, a great swathe of people who previously lamented that they didn’t have the time, not nearly enough time, to pursue things they ‘longed’ to do, suddenly found that they did. I was surprised that so many of my high functioning, high powered sisters suddenly found that making sourdough starter was an interest, let alone a need. Hours spent in fruitless meetings with other high-powered people were replaced by hours spent in fruitless meetings on Zoom, yes, but interspaced with fruitless internet lessons in guitar, Spanish, Persian cooking, doing botanical drawings, at least ordering complex jigsaw puzzles. I’m not putting down on anyone’s choices, I did small versions of lots of those things myself and what I found, and I’m not taking credit for origination, is this: Time is relative.
One of the gifts of 2020 was the opportunity to see time, my own time, very differently. We were allowed, nay forced, to look at the way we spend our lives on the macro level and to make choices more suited to our individual situations.
What I found out is that time is relative but being is not. We have this wonderful, irreplaceable lifetime, just this one, in which to explore the great, terrible world we have been provided with. Twenty minutes spent running the dog by the San Francisco Bay, even though it cuts into the formerly ‘most productive’ part of my day is worth more to me than many other things. A brief lunch with an old friend, even outside on a windy day was more than perfect. A note from a relative, a hug from my son.
I agree with my Seinfeld/Superman friend. Nothing takes 15 minutes, it takes exactly as long as it takes, but it can sustain me for close to forever.