Persons, Places and Things: What time ‘looks like’


By Barb Arland-Fye

Two enormous plastic bags — each one holding empty beverage cans or bottles — take up space in our family’s basement storage room. From mid-March through July 25, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ emergency order halted redemption of 5-cent deposit cans and bottles at Iowa grocery stores. For me, the plastic bags in the basement convey the passage of time during the coronavirus pandemic.


This unrelenting pandemic has altered my sense of the passage of time, and I am discovering the many ways my mind tries to make sense of it.

Many evenings after I have finished my day in the “home office,” I take a walk along the Mississippi River to relax and unwind. Along the usual route is a house under construction. The owner took the original house down to the foundation. I watch with fascination as the framework of the new house takes flesh, wall by wall.


During a recent walk along the river, I called a friend who lives in a nursing home to see how she is doing. The nursing home remains on lockdown because of the pandemic and my friend, who maintains a positive attitude, confessed to feeling bored. The days just seem so long, she said. Days that seem forever long, that is what the passage of time looks like for my friend.

Attending Mass at my parish on Saturday nights, I see the partially covered faces of parishioners. We had been apart for four months and I missed seeing them. Looking around me at the start of Mass, I realize that the long absence has deepened my appreciation for my parish family.

Daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic include line graphs that show the increase in the number of Iowans infected with COVID-19. Someone described this pandemic as being akin to walking across a thin sheet of ice on a lake, hoping and praying we will get to the other side before the ice breaks. I envision all of us reaching out to the next person so that we all make it safely to the other side.

Once a week I make a trip into the office to take care of paperwork. Entering my office, I glance at the paperwork, stacks of newspapers and magazines on my desk. I check the potted plants on my windowsills to see whether they need water. They are still alive and thriving … I am grateful to God for that simple gift.

The voices of my mom and dad on the other end of the phone reassure me that they are surviving the pandemic. Seven months have passed since we have seen each other in person. We are making plans for a reunion this fall. Anticipation can make the passage of time a joy.

Pope Francis tweeted on July 25: “The true pilgrim is capable of going at the pace of the slowest person. And Jesus is capable of this. Jesus is our pilgrim companion. He respects our situation, and does not accelerate the pace. He is the Lord of patience.”

The 5-cent deposit cans and plastic bottles will leave our basement storage room before the pandemic ends. We will continue to mark the passage of time in many different ways. I feel reassured knowing that Jesus continues to be our pilgrim companion on this uncertain journey.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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