On March 2nd I spent the morning listening to the greatest hits of 1918. Coronavirus concerns had just started to get serious in Seattle, and many people were drawing comparisons to the 1918 flu (often referred to as The Spanish Flu despite its American origin). I thought listening to the songs might give me some perspective about how much things had changed since humanity’s last great pandemic. More than anything, listening to it gave me the reassuring thought, “Hey, at least we’re not also fighting World War I.”
As a society, we don’t experience war quite like we used to. Modern wars that are fought overseas have less impact on the daily lives of many Americans. We’ve separated ourselves into a class of people effected by war, and a class that is not. But a disease is different. It is not limited by wealth, class, or race. This is a fight from which no one, quite literally, is immune.
They used to use the phrase “the duration” a lot during the world wars. Because the war really did effect your everyday life, you could apply it to any change that was intended to last the duration of the war. It’s helpful, because it allows you to declare an indefinite change to life without making it a permanent one. Right now, businesses and governments are tending to hedge their bets by making all proclamations last for only 2-4 weeks at a time, with a promise to update or extend if necessary. But I think at this point it’s clear to people that any measures we take are in place until this is over. They are here for the duration.
My gym is closed for the duration. My volunteer work won’t happen for the duration. I can’t see any live theater for the duration. Holiday parties are cancelled for the duration. I probably won’t be able to visit my parents in person for the duration.
It’s a sad thought, all these things I won’t have for an unknowable period of time. But it’s also helpful to remember that they won’t last forever. Back when I was studying to be an actor, the best piece of advice I got was to always have something fun planned for after an audition. That way, this one worrying, stressful event didn’t feel like the last thing I’d ever do. Oftentimes it was as simple as promising myself I would get an Orange Julius on the way home.
This morning I started making a list of everything I’m going to do AFTER the duration. Clients I will followup with, friends I will get coffee with, places I will visit. I don’t know when this list will come to fruition, but it’s nice having it. It’s nice remembering that this won’t be forever. Like any war, there will be damage along the way that cannot be undone. But there is an end, even if it isn’t in sight.
I’m fortunate that many aspects of my work can be done over video chat, since so much of what I do is talking people through their problems, and how they talk about their clutter is as telling for me as seeing it. Still, in a time when everyone is suddenly trapped at home with their stuff, I wish I could be there with them to sort through it in person. Unlike in 1918, we’re lucky to live in a time in which being isolated at home doesn’t mean being cut off. I’m still here for all of you via phone and video, whether that’s as a client or just as a friend. And I intend to keep writing, so if you have anything in particular you’ve been struggling with let me know, and perhaps I can turn it into a blog post to help others as well.
We’re here for each other for the duration. And on the other side of the war.