Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Days Just Seem to Run Together But That's Normal

I've seen a few articles and Facebook posts about how the Covid-19 shutdown has caused people to lose track of weekdays.  During normal times the closest most people come to slipping away from weekdays is during vacations (for those lucky enough to have that opportunity) but even then the vacation ends and weekdays become real again.  What makes the shutdown different is that it just goes on and on.  And seems like virtually everyone is in the same situation.

As a retiree, I'm largely immune to the idea of weekdays but even so I am aware of them as a time to do things when the rest of the world is busy.  But I am no stranger to living for months in situations where the concept of weekdays and weekends are entirely absent.  Serving in the Vietnam war and hiking the Appalachian Trail were both like that.  The latter was much more fun than former but I was keenly aware during my hike that I had experienced the same blending of days during my five months on combat patrol with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Once I became accustomed to the operational routine in Vietnam, days on patrol were pretty much the same.  Each day unfolded pretty much as the previous one.  The only real distinction among days was whether I was out humping the boonies (most of the time), on a firebase for a few days between missions (maybe a quarter of the time) or on in-country R&R with my unit (six days out of those five months)  Even with the difference in location he day of the week was irrelevant.  Whether it was Tuesday, Saturday or any other day made no difference.  What routine I followed depended on where I was and what I was doing, not the day of the week.  I'm not sure when it dawned on me that I couldn't remember what day it was but it was a shock to me,  It was a new experience for me, something that seemed to completely remove me from anything I had ever known.  Of course, that was pretty much my entire Vietnam experience but somehow not knowing the day of the week left me feeling completely untethered.

Even when I became company clerk in the safety of the Bien Hoa Army Base the days were routinely similar.  I did pretty much the same thing every day.  Sundays were somewhat more relaxed compared to combat  but I was still Vietnam so the only  difference between one day and the next was that each passing day was one day closer to home.  That was the only reason to pay attention to a calendar.

Losing track of days on the Appalachian Trail was not a shock nor did I feel untethered.  Numerous extended hikes allowed me to briefly slip into a world where days were just days on the trail in the forest but they always ended in a relatively short time.  A month-long hike on Vermont's Long Trail in 1991 gave me a greater sense  of the disconnect but even that hike always had an end date that I had to keep in mind.  My AT thru-hike also had an end date but it was a goal rather than a hard target so it felt open-ended form most of the six months I was on the trail.

It did not take long for days on the trail to become routine:  wake up, eat, break camp, walk, make camp, eat, sleep.  The details of each day varied but I was responsible for planning each day--on patrol in Vietnam I just followed the guy in front of me, no thought required--so I am far more cognizant of the how the activities differed from day to day.  In the end, though, those activities typically boiled down to determining mileage, finding water and camp sites, figuring how to make the next resupply stop and whether I would get a shower and maybe sleep under a roof in the process.  Knowing the day of the week was usually not a factor in any of those decisions and that information soon slipped out of my higher level consciousness.

So not being aware of the day of the week is hardly a new phenomenon  for me.  And, in truth, I still know that I started writing this on Sunday and I am, still at it on Wednesday.  Unlike Vietnam or the AT, plenty of things are readily available to keep me oriented to the calendar, if need be.  The fact that my routine is unstructured means I can often ignore the calendar or days on end.

It didn't take the pandemic shutdown for me to lose track of days.  Been there.  Done that.  Still doing it.

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