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Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

COVID-19 has forced us to reimagine time. This isn’t bad.

Thinking about time from a disability perspective can help us shift our expectations of what we should accomplish

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We live interdependently in God’s time. The psalmist declares, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” This is a radically different message than our society conveys. During the COVID-19 pandemic, considering time from a disability perspective may help to ground us all.

As an ordained minister and a PhD student, I experience immense privilege. I also live with cerebral palsy. My health is nowhere as “vulnerable” as that of many friends with disabilities. Living with my mom means I don’t worry about whether my attendants will show up, or how to shop for myself, or the onslaught of mental health worries that may have occurred while isolated in Toronto. 

Despite having nothing but time to write papers, fulfil my duties as a teaching assistant and read books, these past days have been challenging. I have been distracted by the rapidly escalating news, notifications from friends whose loved ones are in the hospital and emails filling my inbox. I reach out to friends and colleagues, laugh at the latest meme and watch movies to escape. 

Right now, we are encountering time differently than before. Many of us have hours freed up from travel and events, yet we realize that our time on earth is not something to take for granted.

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As Christians, we have a profound calling to live in God’s time. We dance to a different rhythm. In the capitalist society around us, time, like money, has been commodified, something we manage and control. We live in a 24-hour news cycle with a vigilant eye on constantly reactive markets. People are – consciously or unconsciously – judged and evaluated based on how much they produce and consume.

Christians have long spoken against this consumerist model of valuing time and money. Jesus’ call to care for those on the margins and John Wesley’s encouragement to live simply are two such examples. Today, ministers call on their congregants to phone each other, stay home for worship and stop panic buying so that the most vulnerable amongst us can be safe and have the necessities available. We are called to reimagine our time in time to love our neighbours as ourselves.

People with disabilities, their families and support people know how to live in time differently. For me, activities of daily living take longer and require more support than they do for many others. Sometimes, I become frustrated with myself when I feel like I should accomplish more in a period or finish a task more quickly. I, too, get sucked into the demands of task lists and expectations that I have set for myself. However, when I am being gentler with myself (often at the urging of loved ones), I remember I live in “crip time.”

Disability activist Alison Kafer explains that “crip time” requires reimagining our sense of what can or should take time and noticing that our expectations of what can be accomplished are based on particular minds and bodies. She writes, “Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.” 

Nowadays, our clocks are bending. We are reimagining ways of connecting and caring for one another in the absence of many of the routines and obligations that previously determined our schedules. 

For the most part, people are heeding advice to stay home and to show love for their neighbours – both locally and globally – in new ways. We are reminded of our radical interdependence. How we live impacts everyone, including the most vulnerable. Expectations about what we need to buy immediately are being challenged and adjusted (who knew toilet paper was such a hot commodity?)

We are reimagining ways of connecting and caring for one another in the absence of many of the routines and obligations that previously determined our schedules. 

Even our expectations about what we can produce, or what others can produce, are in constant flux. Our concern for those who are most vulnerable – people whose names we may not know and who we have never met – is resetting our valuing of time. Our way of valuing time and production needs to shift, especially as people struggle to secure stable housing and food.

Productivity might look less like revenue and more like caring for others by staying home, advocating for governmental supports for those in precarious housing and employment situations, and naming our fears and griefs aloud, knowing that we are not alone. 

“Cripping time” is not about trying to place a positive spin on needing to stay home. Rather, it invites us to notice our own biases and reimagine these times of waiting, anxiety, delays and patience in different ways. Together, we “bend the clock” to value our moments anew so that everybody can live in this time we have been given.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece misattributed the quote “Live simply so that others may simply live” to John Wesley. This version has been corrected. 

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  • says:

    Dear Miriam,
    Thank you for your perspective and your very wise words. I hope we all listen.
    Blessings, John Hill

  • says:

    This is very bad. Time is precious as it always has been. We have always been interdependent. Many are simply not aware of this. I draw upon the Holy Spirit to guide and guard and comfort me and others who have faith in the Holy Trinity. I pray for God`s mercy on the children and the mentally disabled and the lost souls.

    I pray that the Good Shepherd will find us when we leave this world and lead us into life everlasting and thereby save our souls, and today continue to save us from ourselves, the world, and where possible, save us from this current tragedy in the world. I pray for a vaccine soon.

  • says:

    Thank you for this beautiful essay. Comforting at this very uncomfortable time.

  • says:

    Thank you. I am disabled, yet had never heard of crip time. That's how I live and am delighted to know there is a word to describe living at one's own pace as one can.