“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.”Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
One snowy Saturday in mid-March, I found myself quite unexpectedly falling headfirst into the gaping entrance of a rabbit hole, tumbling down toward completely unknown territory. Try as I might, it was impossible to stop or even slow my descent as I continued to gain momentum through the dark twisting tunnel. Like Alice, I had been caught off guard. It happened so quickly that I had no other choice but to continue my free-fall and hope for a gentle landing when I reached the bottom. Once I entered that rabbit hole there was no way of knowing how deep the tunnel was or whether I’d know if I had reached the bottom or was merely resting on an outcropping before once again resuming my fall.
During these COVID-times, we’re all traveling through one rabbit hole or another. Life, as we knew it a year ago, is not the life we are living now. I suppose that’s always the case though. For thousands of years, we’ve known what the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out, “The only constant in life is change.” We expect change, but we have also been led to believe…mistakenly perhaps…that change comes in some logical or linear progression. We may not welcome the changes, but at least they can be understood or explained. Cause and effect…that sort of thing.
The surreal world where up isn’t just down but sideways might make for interesting art and theatre, but no one wants to actually live there. Lots of folks stand in line at Cedar Point to buy a ticket to ride the Corkscrew, but they eventually want the ride to end so they can move on to the snack stand. Falling through the tunnel of the rabbit hole is an adventure to be sure but unless, perhaps, you’re a rabbit you ultimately want to leave it and live amongst humans once again.
Alice didn’t want to fall into the rabbit hole either, but while she was there she explored the wonders of the world in which she found herself and tried to make some meaning of it all. I’ve been trying to do that too. Recognizing that COVID is not my life on hold, but rather my life as it is, helps a bit as I try to navigate this world of butterflies, hookahs, and cats that wander through Zoom calls.
“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand-and melting like a snowflake.”Sir Francis Bacon
The strangest thing about my life in the rabbit hole is the total distortion of my concept of time. When I was a girl, the JC Penney catalog arrived every year with a special holiday wish-book edition. I was always intrigued by the section of frilly nightgowns and fancy underwear. I was especially fascinated by the day-of-the-week panties. Each pair was a different pastel color complete with a different day embroidered within a lacey heart. I always kinda wanted them instead of the utilitarian white ones worn in my family, but not enough to bump something more desirable off my Christmas list. I could certainly use a set of those panties now. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what day it was in the morning? As it is, I’m marking the days with my pill container. Each evening when I take my bedtime pills and supplements, I say to myself, “Oh, today was Tuesday…or Wednesday, or Thursday…whatever. Hmmm. Nice to know. “
I don’t think I’m alone in this confusion. One of the local television stations has a brief moment each day where they display a graphic asking, “Do you know what day it is?” There is a pause of a few seconds and then another graphic reveals the day. Not the date mind you, just the appropriate day of the week. The entire process concludes with a final graphic declaring congratulations for all those who guessed it correctly. I don’t tune in every day and I’m really not much of a game player but there is a great deal of satisfaction when I’m among the winners.
This time distortion phenomenon might be unique to senior citizens or those who have been self-isolating for months on end. Without the clear delineation of work or school, the days blend together into a vanilla pudding kind of sameness. In the summer when we could safely gather outside there were markers that made one day different from another, but once those of us in the colder climes moved indoors those markers became fewer and farther between. We were no longer sitting together at the picnic table with friends and family under the big tree in the backyard or gathering around the fire pit for conversation at the edge of the river. For safety’s sake, our winter-time human connections are nearly all virtual.
`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Seemingly overnight the rabbit hole experience transformed all the meaningful events of our lives into virtual events. In an instant, we accepted that interactions with our grandchildren would be done over FaceTime, that we’d reach out to friends for support on social media, and that gatherings of all kinds would be done over Zoom. I attend Sunday morning church services…often in three different states on the same morning…via YouTube and Zoom. Moving important lifetime affairs to virtual platforms was met with varying degrees of success. Our weekly family gatherings and reunions, for example often evolved into seances.
Can you hear me?
Are you there?
I can’t see you, but I hear your voice.
Oh, we’re lost her again!
Maybe she’ll be back.
I have come to realize that virtual life is real life. We are not together physically, but the time we spend together is real. The sand in the hourglass of my life has not ceased to flow. I am just experiencing life in an unfamiliar and unconventional way. It truly is getting curiouser and curiouser.
“Don’t slide down the rabbit hole. The way down is a breeze, but climbing back’s a battle.”Kate Morrison, The Clock Maker’s Daughter
Perhaps I have reached the end of the downward slide. I feel that like Alice, I am emerging into Wonderland. Not the world that Alice found full of unique people and places…although that’s surely possible…but a place where I am pondering, questioning, predicting, planning, and…yes…wondering about not just how I’ll extricate myself from this time warp, but what I’ll find on the other side. What happens when I climb out of this tunnel?
It’s very easy to cocoon myself in front of the fire, watch the world from my window, and simply wait for the time I can fling open my door and once more hug my neighbors, but I must find a way to create meaning, purpose, and make this disorienting tumble through the mud worth it. Perhaps that is the challenge of now. What an unusual, unique, and disorienting journey…this ride…this time…has been. Rabbit hole or not, it is the time I have been given…might as well enjoy the slide.
Lately it occurres to me What a long, strange trip it’s been.The Grateful Dead, Truckin’