In response to a recent death in my family, someone remarked to me that all I needed was “a tincture of time.”
Apart from the pleasant alliteration, the phrase struck as wrong-headed in many many ways. Forget that it was sent from someone with whom I was not close. Forget that the person is a medical doctor who should have plentiful empathy in his being.
If you look at the multiple meanings of the term “tincture of time,” it basically is a suggestion for watchful waiting; it is defined as a short period of time in which to allow nature to take its course; the phrase references a passage of time without intervention. Certainly, that is suggesting that dealing with death of a family member just requires the passage of time (a short time even), as if the death had little or no lasting meaning. And, as if processing of death will just happen.
The phrase “a tincture of time” reminds me of another phrase: Time heals all wounds, another falsity. Time may heal physical wounds but psychological wounds — trauma — doesn’t disappear. It can be managed. It can be ameliorated. It can be navigated. But make no mistake about it: time may dim memory but it does not eradicate memory (absent dementia).
But, the phrase “tincture of time” got me thinking about the pandemic and our responses to it (or our lack of responses to it). Our President (and I use the term “our” intentionally because even those who did not vote for him or do not care for his leadership have him in office unless and until someone else becomes our nation’s president) has what I think could be characterized in many ways as a “tincture of time” approach to COVID.
Our President says things like: the virus will just disappear. He gives dates as if things will improve in short order. He notes rapid vaccine development at the speed of light or faster. He imagines an immediate cure. He is non-plussed by the rising death toll it seems. He refuses to wear a mask except in a rare instance, with a “who needs it, I am immune” attitude.
And what he says and does and apparently feels seem to be shared by far too many across our nation. There is almost a tincture of time approach to COVID when what we need is rapid, coordinated, systemic approaches to dealing with the virus. We need action.
Seriously, we do not have time to waste. Watchful waiting is not the recipe for addressing COVID. We need coordinated responses. We need non-siloed approaches. We need our government to spend plentiful dollars for quality testing and contact tracing; we need to improve data collection and data use in ways that are systemic. We need to establish consistency and accuracy in data collection. We need the opposite of watch waiting. We need ACTION.
Think about education — my area of expertise. Schools will not reopen effectively — whether online, hybrid or in person — just by opening the doors. We won’t help teachers and students move forward with quality education with a tincture of time. No indeed.
We need to make our schools trauma responsive. We need to provide our teachers with quality professional development that will let them have the tools they need for helping their students of all ages and stages, many of whom will return having experienced trauma, racial tensions and uncertainty in the COVID-gap.
In dealing with COVID and ways for our nation to respond, we need to take action. Not any action. We need action that will lead to viral containment. We need to recognize that the impact of COVID has entered virtually every aspect of our lives — personally and professionally. In the field of education, we are proceeding with minimal guidelines (often not generated by teachers or school nurses or school counselors); we need training and action plans. Thinking that “just starting” and then “waiting til we get it more or less right” isn’t a suitable approach — for education or for COVID or for our economy.
The suggestion that we deal with death with just a tincture of time is as wrong-headed as thinking that we should deal with COVID and its spread with minimal intervention and watchful waiting. If we do that, more people will die, our economy will suffer and our educational system will fail our children.
It’s not time to watchful waiting; it is time for thoughtful action.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.