As January ends, we’re approaching one year of quarantine. How do we understand a year in which we’ve spent weeks, months and seasons mostly apart, our plans upended? We might not be able to yet. But we’ve found ways to cope: marking time, developing routines, creating novelty, getting accustomed to the two-dimensional world of video chat.
I read a good article this week by the anthropologist Rebecca J. Lester on the importance of rituals, of “punctuating the monotony of quarantine time and reminding ourselves that, although much of the world seems to have stopped in its tracks, time, in fact, moves on.”
We’ve amended our rituals over the past year: abbreviated Thanksgivings, graduations via Zoom. A regular dinner, with family or solo, might have assumed new importance as a sign of the end of each day, a day possibly indistinguishable from the one before and the one before that.
I received an email last month from Noah Nichols in Norman, Okla.:
My 21st birthday was on March 19, 2020, and I was supposed to travel to Las Vegas with my two best friends to celebrate. We obviously canceled our trip, and opted to just celebrate at local bars after I turned 21 at midnight. Two days before, our city council announced that all bars would close on March 18 at 8 p.m., four hours before I turned 21! I proceeded to have a pity party for about … 9 months now, and I was curious if you thought I should still do something to celebrate once we can do so safely. Should we go to Vegas? Have a different trip altogether?
I’ve been thinking about Noah, his 21st birthday celebration suspended in the amber of March of 2020, a time when so many things were paused, put on hold, postponed to some later date. Whether we’re excited to legally order our first beer or just to celebrate a milestone that, in American culture, signifies our arrival at adulthood, our 21st birthdays are often big deals. They’re rites of passage whose observance is integral to our chronologies, the story we tell of our lives.