Monday, January 24, 2022

A lesson in relativity involving relatives

According to my calendar, it has been only one month since Christmas Eve.

This seems impossible to me, and perhaps it may seem so to you, now that I've called it to your attention.

So much has happened since.

To set the scene, Middle Son and his wife Margaret were very responsible and grown-up and decided that, since their youngest (he's just more than nine months old now) had been exposed to COVID-19 at Daycare at the beginning of that week, they should stay at home on Christmas Eve, lest any of them or their three children turn out to be contagious.

I pouted. But the often-dormant grown-up part of me eventually surfaced, understood, and (reluctantly) accepted their decision.

So only four of our five children could be with us for Christmas Eve.

It all worked out, as these things do. But in the rush of events leading to our Christmas Eve gathering, Younger Daughter and Olaf asked Olaf's parents to watch their four kids on December 23. Olaf's parents are not vaccinated against COVID-19, and deliberately, and defiantly, so. But they were in apparently good health on that occasion.

They were less healthy on Christmas Day, when Younger Daughter and Olaf brought the kids by for more presents, but they didn't mention it.

If you are tempted to contrast the behavior of Olaf's parents unfavorably with that of Middle Son and Margaret on this divisive issue of guarding against infecting others, I will not try to stop you. Anyway, Olaf's parents got progressively sicker after Christmas, to the point where, after first floating the notion that they must have picked something up from the grandkids, they actually sought testing. (They have both recovered, as far as I know, and neither required hospitalization -- thank you milder omicron variant -- but they were pretty sick for a solid week or so.)

Middle Son and Margaret's exposure turned out not to result in any Covid at their house, and they were thinking of rejoining the world in time for New Year's Eve, but the positive diagnoses of Olaf's parents scotched that idea pretty quick. Depending on your attitude, I suppose, Middle Son was either being Eeyore or merely philosophical when he predicted that, once his kids went back to school and Daycare they'd catch the Covid for real. Meanwhile, Olaf and Younger Daughter and all their kids came down with the disease. (Oddly enough, the two grandkids under five, who can't be vaccinated, had it worst. The rest, who are as vaccinated and/or boostered as their ages will permit, exhibited mild symptoms only.)

Anyway, Middle Son's pessimistic prediction proved accurate. We eventually delivered all the Christmas presents for his family still at our house along with chicken soup and crackers and Cuban sandwiches (so they wouldn't have to cook) and other things that were meant to provide aid and comfort whilst they recuperated. (Middle Son had not yet been boostered; he seemed to have the most serious case, even more substantial than his kids, none of whom are old enough to be vaccinated.) Long Suffering Spouse and I wore masks when we dropped these off on their front porch and ran like flushed pheasants.

Oldest Son and Abby went to Notre Dame's bowl game debacle in Arizona. We babysat Rodent, their now elderly dog. On the flight back from Arizona to Chicago, they were seated in front of a man who kept hacking and wheezing. Though they're both fully vaxxed and boostered, when Oldest Son came down with a sore throat, a few days later, Abby insisted he take a Covid test. He turned up positive, too.

Why did you bother getting tested when you had such negligible symptoms? I asked him via text when he reported the diagnosis. Well, he replied, Abby is paranoid about these things. She insisted. (Fully vaxxed and boostered, they both recovered quickly.)

So much has gone on -- and that's just the family Covid report card. Surely, two months must have elapsed since Christmas, or even three....

But, no, the calendar insists it has been only a month as of today.

Physicists will tell you that time slooooows down, relative to a stationary observer, as a traveler approaches the speed of light. Our hypothetical space traveler would potentially age far less on a near lightspeed trip to Proxima Centauri than would her friends and family on Earth. Eons might pass outside in the seconds it might take someone trapped in the event horizon of a black hole to be pulled into his constituent atoms. Time, they teach us, is relative.

As if we didn't already know that instinctively! Duck into a tavern sometime on your way home from work for a quick one. Hours may pass for your anxious and then angry spouse waiting at home, while only a few happy minutes seem to pass by inside the gin mill. The minutes stretch out to infinity and beyond when you're waiting for someone to return a phone call. Meanwhile, time compresses to a whoosh when you have to leave by a certain time and you just have one more thing you want to finish. For a grownup, the weeks before Christmas rush by in a mad blur. For a little kid, the weeks before Christmas are an agonizingly slow torture. Every minute is an hour, every hour is a day.

And in the crush of events following another Pandemic holiday, as happened to me this morning, one can be jolted by the realization that the months that have zoomed by since Christmas have really only taken 30 days....

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