If It Be Now

If it be now, ’tis not to come.
Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2

For the last 17 years of his life my father had a degenerative neurological condition. He wasn’t one to discuss his feelings, at least not with me, so I can’t swear to his state of mind. But his verbalized interest in his mortality centered on the manner of his death, given that degenerative neurological condition. I never heard him fuss about the uncertainty of the timing.

By contrast, my mother was healthy until she wasn’t. Congestive heart failure led to her death about two months after its observable onset. During those two months I never heard her ask about the likely manner of her impending death, but she was understandably curious about its timing. She was never obnoxious or impatient, but she tried several times to get the doctor to predict the time she had left, sidling up to the question from a different angle each time. Did she think that the problem was with how she was phrasing the question? Dunno.

If it be not to come, it will be now.

She wasn’t the only one who wanted to know. It wasn’t that I wanted her to die (at all or quickly), but I wondered whether I should fly back and forth across the country to my Ottawa home or just settle into my sister’s house in Vancouver for the duration. I could do whatever was needed but were we talking one month? Three? Six? My sister likely had an interest in this for her own reasons.

After three days, fish and visitors both stink.
No, not Shakespeare or Benjamin Franklin

We were all unsuccessful in getting an answer to what seemed like a pretty simple question. These days I watch reporters asking epidemiological experts more-or-less this same simple-sounding question about the COVID-19 pandemic, also unsuccessfully.


I understand that question: that desire for some schedule certainty here. Immediately, please. The Big Guy and I have been in full-on isolation for 14 days since returning from the USA. Even under privileged conditions it stinks. It seems we are now hunkering down for another month. Will that turn into three? Six? Hey! You over there! Don’t even think “twelve.”

If it be not now, yet it will come — the readiness is all.
– OK, back to Hamlet

Well, our readiness as a society seems lacking for many aspects of this crisis. I can’t do much about that, or not immediately. All I can do is to manage the uncertainty with as much grace as I can muster and be ready for whatever happens.


With respecting to managing myself, I think this is one of the best articles I’ve read on the pandemic’s emotional fallout. I highly recommend it. Here are a few excerpts:

The rest of this piece is an offering. I have been asked by my colleagues around the world to share my experiences of adapting to conditions of crisis. Of course, I am just a human, struggling like everyone else to adjust to the pandemic. However, I have worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement. . . .

Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.


This entry was posted in Feeling Clearly, Mortality, New Perspectives and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to If It Be Now

  1. barbara says:

    Cherish the day — we have never known how many more we have. This is no different.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – No, nor been as much in charge of our circumstances as we thought, either. 🙂

  2. Alison Uhrbach says:

    We should be able to learn from this, eh? Life can turn on a dime – we need to live each day – We quote these sayings – now it’s our turn to live them as truth. Some times I feel hopeful that this will change the world in many good ways – other times – I just wonder – how much longer??

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – “Live and don’t learn: That’s us.” – from a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. (Although I might have used that before.) Yes, I find I am whipsawed between competing perspectives: just-tell-me-what-to-do and stand-aside-I-got-this; this-is-looking-like-a-disaster and this-is-going-to-prove-to-be-overblown; wow-it’s-so-nice-to-have-quiet-time and I-can’t-stand-this-for-another-day; we’ll-be-better-people-and-better-prepared-too and we’re-all-gonna-forget-this-in-an-instant. Otherwise, I know my own mind. 🙂

  3. Tom Watson says:

    I was thinking that this virus is so spooky. We like to see what we’re facing – even if it’s death – but with this thing it’s unseen. Could be hiding behind that bush, or behind the face of the person I meet on the trail in the park, or wherever. It does funny things to the mind.

    Most of us like to be somewhat in charge of our lives. Right now, we’re not. Other factors are determining whether or not we can even leave our homes. Mostly not.

    They say routines are good. I’m “routined” out because every day’s the same. They also say to do a daily agenda. Since every day is pretty much identical I find that I’m usually ahead of my agenda by a good two hours when lunch rolls around.

    I’m not given to fear, and I’m not an alarmist, and I’m not anxiety-ridden. But I do long for the other side of this. In the meantime…well, I’ll deal with the meantime…because, really, I’m pretty fortunate compared to many other people. And it seems that this is a time to treasure what we so often take for granted.


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Well said. I have a nominal routine but find that I spend too much time online.

  4. Dave Jobson says:

    For me this crisis makes us think about how we live. The models that guide us and our politicians. At times like this politicians must dig more deeply to find solutions and hopefully pay attention a little more to experts who might have useful information. To abandon old conservative ideologies of austerity and substitute models that reflect the need to support those whose lives are devastated by the crisis. A tremendous level of debt was incurred during World War 2 ; followed by twenty- five years of prosperity and growth not seen since. A reminder that Government debt is not like personal or business debt. All money in circulation is somebody’s debt. If there is no debt there is no money. The Government must be in debt to ensure that there is money in circulation in the economy. Excessive personal and business debt is a no no. Government debt is a MUST. That is how we must live.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dave – I sure agree with supporting those who are devastated. I’d consider letting Taiwan or South Korea manage the next pandemic.

    • Dave Jobson says:

      Also Singapore. Do you think Asians are more willing to follow authority than many free spirited Westerners?

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Dave – That’s what I heard from folks who knew the area back in the 1990s. I don’t know what it’s like now.

  5. An excellent article that somewhat fits our family situation because it’s aimed at academics and we have that sort of job and mindset if not the classrooms full of students. I have experienced a “fair” amount of upheaval and change in my life, the most shocking of which came right after my marriage when I was moved from a highly social job and urban setting into the boondocks of Florida and Arkansas with my folklorist/prof husband. It took me years, if not decades, to understand what had happened to me when my life became one of intense social deprivation and isolation. I now know the worst problem was the loss of normal (to me) amounts of sound. Today, I know how to plug into Focused Listening and other kinds of music stimulation to keep mentally and physically healthy.

    Nonetheless, when the enormity of the corona virus need for isolation, even from the family members in houses near me, took root in my mind, I wandered around in a daze for a while. I am not accustomed to thinking of myself as especially vulnerable in dire circumstances. But I cannot reverse time and aging!

    I was unable to pick up the threads of my usual mental work for a couple or three weeks. Half of our family is in the US having “end of life” talks with their teenagers. The media connection with the horrors and grief besetting the entire world clarify what each of us is facing. And yet, the invisible and unpredictable elements of this catastrophe force mental gymnastics from minds numb and far from supple. I see myself passing through stages of grief and stages of mental and emotional recovery.

    I am thankful that my husband and I can usually manage to produce a roughly coordinated approach — one cool head at a time while the other one scrambles to catch up!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Your comment is a good reminder that some of us have faced similar dislocations before, albeit individually; most have faced something and gotten through it. It gives me some new appreciation of the strains on war-time populations, both those in uniform and those at home.

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