Richard Friedlander: Time and the Virus

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With time on his hands, Richard Friedlander takes a walk and discovers a world he’d largely ignored – his own neighborhood.

A precept from wisdom literature says we should act as if our souls will be taken from us tomorrow while our bodies will last 1,000 years, that our focus should be on our inner life. Otherwise, we’re just shells.

That saying was on my mind after an exhilarating walk along roads in the hills I’d never walked before. I described to my wife some of the natural and architectural wonders I’d seen, and she suggested we do it together “sometime next week." To which I replied, “Why so soon? We have all the time in the world.” And then I thought, maybe we don’t. Such are the strange times we live in. When, if we are not plagued by unemployment, we have lots of leisure but are threatened with being disappeared. A very unfunny Catch-22.

While many might like to move faster, circumstances have forced us to slow down. To some this is purgatory. As a college classmate remarked, “Every morning I wake up with nothing to do, and by evening I’ve done only half of it.” But having time encourages others to smell the roses. And unfamiliar roses at that. Every day, for example, my wife and I look out on a San Francisco Bay that can change dramatically with the weather, but it’s still the same bay. I needed a jolt.

Although I’ve driven up and down the road to our house thousands of times, the houses that border it never seemed worth my attention. But walking especially uphill forced me to pause, so I could appreciate their unique charms and natural settings. Deep, verdant valleys and high ridges. Towering castles and modest cottages. It was winter but the houses practically blossomed! I also realized that real people live in them! With their own interests, their dogs and their cats; yet somehow their lives were entwined with mine. What a revelation! And I asked myself, “How many years have I been living here? And it took COVID to make me take this walk now?” The great Samuel Johnson might have assured me that a serious threat “concentrates the mind wonderfully.”

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With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander lives in the East Bay.