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“For the duration . . .”

closed-for-the-duration-coronavirus-Wellesley-MABy Harry S. Margolis

With the uncertainty of our coronavirus shutdown, my mother has recalled a phrase she heard often as a child during World War II: “For the duration.”

Gas rationing was supposed to last “for the duration.” Street lights would be dimmed “for the duration.” Americans were asked to keep their mouths closed “for the duration” since “loose talk can cost lives.” Factories switched from producing consumer goods to military hardware “for the duration.”

How long was “for the duration?” No one knew; except that it was as long as it took to win the war.


We’re in a similar situation today. How long will our shutdown last? How long will it be until we have a vaccination or the coronavirus burns itself out through “herd immunity?” How long will you be out of work? How long will it be until we can open our office to clients? When can we stop sequestering at home? When will it be safe to travel?

We don’t know the answer to any of these questions and that uncertainty is a big part of the difficulty of enduring the pandemic. Many of us spend a lot of time and energy on planning, whether for our businesses, school, vacations or living situations. Now we can’t.

With its source in the Yiddish adage “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht,” we often hear today, “man plans, and God laughs.”


Little Experience with Instability

Up until now, many of us have lived in a very stable world where we can plan—perhaps the most stable period of human life. Hopefully, our jobs and family lives are secure. We’re at very small risk that our children will not make it to adulthood or that we will be subject to famine or, back to the Yiddish, pogroms. Since World War II, despite our adventures in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, very few Americans have been involved with war. There hasn’t been a draft in almost half a century.

Even the Great Recession, which undermined the financial stability of tens of millions of Americans, was man made. The coronavirus pandemic, despite the claims of President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo that it originated in a lab in Wuhan, is a natural occurrence. It’s our response that is man made.

Our long-term stability enhances our ability to plan and makes this uncertain time very different for most of us. As we sequester at home, every day merges into every other day. Those of us lucky enough to be able to continue working from home don’t have the same boundaries we once had between work and home life.

Can We Live in the Moment?

That’s frustrating, but perhaps a healthy change. If we can’t plan, if this situation will last for the duration, perhaps we can do a better job of living in the moment. According to the psychologist Abraham Maslow, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

The website claims:

Staying in the present helps us live life more fully. Rather than worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, we should savor every moment. Researchers have found that people who live in the now are happier, more optimistic, less depressed, and more satisfied with life overall.

When we have so little control over our immediate futures, let’s let go. We’ll get back to work when we get back to work. In the meantime, let’s see what we can do to enjoy every day. It sure helps that now that it’s May, spring seems to have arrived, after a cold and wet April.

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