Passing time is a strange expression. Passing does not imply using or wasting time. Nor does it mean that we somehow move ahead of time itself. When we come across the word, we most often think of hobbies. This comes closer to how we use time that is dedicated to doing something that we enjoy and relaxes us. For me, passing time is more an engagement, a committed work because we have time on our hands, nothing else to do.
This thought comes to me as I am currently reading a fictional life of a nun in Belgium during World War II. The book is “What Did You Do in the War Sister?” It’s written by Dennis Turner who used some letters of an American nun to recreate a narrative based on facts, generalizations and otherwise assumptions about life during World War II. As I read it, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was continuing, and I also had my own research into life of religious during the war. What struck me was how humans pass time in any manner possible and in any circumstance. Turner refers to such time as ‘interludes of normality.’
It is not as if life returns to normal, but even during war time, we pass time by doing what needs to be done. This kind of passing time is an attempt to make time normal and familiar. It is an engagement in time, not an escape from time. Passing time in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic became folkloric. The internet was crammed with ideas of what to do to pass time. Apparently, many people got into baking bread and other such homey crafts.
An interlude of normality is a time to do something, not necessarily because it fun or entertaining, although it can be, but because it helps to productively pass time. The nun in Turner’s book points to passing time to help the girls in the school feel a sense of normalcy even while death and destruction was the ‘real norm.’ In this case, the sisters were asked to take in a cow and a pig from a man who thought his farm animals would be safer with the sisters rather than at the farm where people were starting to, in desperation, steal animals for meat. The sisters and students passed time learning about how to care for the animals. It was a good distraction in order to be normal in abnormal times.
And so, I thought of all the displaced families in Ukraine and those who have become refugees. It’s not normal to have one’s family waiting for a train to Poland while temperatures dip into the freeze zone. How to pass time with no assurance about when the next train will come? As I watch the news, I will be looking for stories about whatever interludes of normalcy come their way. I am sure they will be inspiring.