When we moved to America eight years ago, I suggested we go by boat. It seemed to me that we needed those two weeks of travel to say goodbye to the old and prepare for the new. The soul goes on horseback, the saying goes.
Just in time, my children reminded me that I only have to see a boat to get seasick. So we took the plane from Amsterdam in the morning to put the key in the lock of our house in Princeton before the end of the afternoon.
Practical, for sure. Fast too. But where was the time to adjust? Where was the meantime?
The meantime is a phenomenon that has gradually disappeared from our lives. Young people can no longer imagine that you had to wait a week to pick up the prints of the roll of film you had dropped off at the photo shop. Or you had to wait for spring to taste the first strawberries.
The waiting lasted forever. The longer you waited, the more you looked forward to the result.
I remember the time when I saved up for a jigsaw puzzle with pictures of the TV show Daktari. How I wanted it and how long those two weeks were. It seemed like 20 years. Every day I ran expectantly from school to the mailbox. When the postman finally handed me the box—by that time I’d given up hope—I was disappointed. There was no clear picture of Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion, whom I adored.
Nowadays we don’t have much practice with patience. Most needs can be met immediately. The mouse-click generation knows that every wish is a command to an internet supplier. Of course, those new football shoes will be at your doorstep tomorrow, and if they are not what you expect, you simply send them back.
Gone is the joy of anticipation, that special feeling of looking forward to something, the fearful suspicions, the images that appeared before your mind’s eye, just before falling asleep.
But the rude coronavirus managed to force all of humanity into that meantime. We have been transported to some strange place where time has stopped while we wait. For a vaccine, for medicine, till all of this is over. It is giving us a great collective lesson in patience.
So we wait…till we can visit our grandparents again, till we can see our hairdresser, enjoy a concert, visit a museum. Living our lives to the fullest again.
As long as the virus is controlling our destiny, we can do little more than bide our time.
I often think of the travelers of yesteryear, on the boat to New York. I see them peering over the water at sunset. The Old World recedes behind them. The familiar houses with the tables inside at which they sat every day and broke bread together. Farther and farther behind the horizon, but the images all the brighter and more sorrowful.
Ahead of them, before the fog, lies the New World and the unknowable future. They tried to imagine the quay where they would walk ashore, carrying their suitcases. A rainy day perhaps, a faint sun. Freshly washed streets. When the time came, they were no longer the same people who said goodbye to their family on the quay in Rotterdam.
They had been changed in the meantime.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, “Saving Charlotte,” was published in 2017 in the U.S.