Something truly remarkable happened this week. The Society of Biblical Literature, which, along with the American Academy of Religion, meets annually in November, has canceled its in-person meeting. I’ve been attending this conference since 1991 (with a few years off for good behavior). It always meets the weekend before Thanksgiving, stretching to the Tuesday prior. Some academics use the meeting to have an exotic Thanksgiving break with their families, particularly when it congregates someplace warm. (It was scheduled for Boston this year.) So I’m ruminating what this will mean for a year of missing markers. Some of you may recall I missed two years ago, electing to stay in Newark Airport instead, but this is different. We’re all being changed by this virus.
Missing markers. That’s what my wife calls it. March 12 was the day that Covid-19 became a crisis. In my extended family that’s in the middle of birthday season. Travel plans had to be altered. Trips to see loved ones had to be delayed. Then cancelled. Memorial Day came and went. It was a long weekend, but for most of us it was a long weekend at home. Our usual summer trip to the lake was also a victim. A remote lake may be the safest place to be, but you have to get there. Flying doesn’t seem safe and we don’t have enough vacation days to drive all the way out and back. Here we are halfway through the summer and each day feels pretty much like the one before, even if it’s a day off work. Time seems out of whack. Back in April it was hard to believe it was still 2020, now it’s difficult to comprehend that the year’s more than half over and there will be no AAR/SBL in November.
Growing tired of the phrase “unprecedented times,” I prefer “missing markers.” Yes, the weather’s still doing its time-keeping job. This summer has been quite hot around here, for the most part. I remember shivering in my study sometime not so long ago, bundled up in layers and thinking that when summer rolled around this coronavirus would be a bad memory. If only there were something governments could do to keep people safe. If only there were people in the White House who cared. I had visions of professors, hundreds and hundreds of them, wearing masks with their tweed. It was a vision of wonder. They’d walk up to you, extending an elbow to bump, but you’d back off. That’s actually too close. And lecturing spreads germs very effectively. Over time 2020 itself will become a marker. I’m not sure anyone will miss it, however.