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It’s May 8, 129th day of the year. Yesterday’s temperatures of Lake Michigan were 49 degrees the Chicago crib and 52 degrees at the Chicago shore.

This day in history (from history.com)

1541, south of present-day Memphis, Tenn., Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto reaches the Mississippi River, one of the first European explorers to ever do so. 

1973, On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, armed members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) surrender to federal authorities, ending their 71-day siege of Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1890.

2010,  Eighty-eight-year-old actress Betty White, known for her former roles on “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” becomes the oldest person to host the long-running, late-night TV sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.”

Here we are at the end of another week, heading into a cooler-than-normal weekend. The downtown farmers market will be open tomorrow.

The Fourth of July parade is off; the Fourth of July Association, which has sponsored all the festivities for almost a century, made that decision in the face of this pandemic.

The City is looking into how it can safely hold some of its summer events. 

A question that must be floating around in many minds is “When?” When will things ease up? 

Well, what about 40 days?

Forty days harks back to Middle Eastern writings – Judaism, Christianity and Islam but even before that to Sumerian texts, where the god Enki, or Ea, was ultimately referred to by that numeral.

Forty appears to have been used for punishment (40 lashes, per the Sanhedrin, though only 39 were meted out), age (Moses’ life was divided into three periods of 40 years each) and days. The flood in Book of Genesis lasted 40 days and 40 nights; Lent in the Christian tradition is roughly 40 days; some fasting periods in the Hindu system are 40 days. The Masih ad-Dajjal, a false prophet in the Islamic faith, roams around the Earth in 40 days.

My friend Don Scott, who demurs at being identified as the scholar that he is, finds four “categories” of “forty days” in the First Testament: power or authority, transition, meditation and decision-making. In each case, the term denotes a long but not necessarily precise time.

The phrase, he says, “connotes, however, something more significant than just a temporal measure. … It is a time of existential sensitivity, preparation, labor, transformation, reflection and gratitude. … One can say, with some confidence, that the Bible is the story of the engagement between God and humanity.  Abraham Heschel says, ‘The Bible is the revelation of God and the response of humanity.’ So, ‘forty days’ is a time for engagement.”

That fits with what many Evanstonians have been doing – engaging despite confinement. They have rallied to get food to the hungry, find shelter for the homeless, acknowledge and cheer for front-line workers and support local businesses.

On a more mundane level, I offer this explanation of time. Mothers in the small town where I grew up all seemed to have the same way of putting refusing to specify a time when we could do something they weren’t really happy about but not outright refusing. It was “Pretty soon.” No one ever questioned it, but at one point, one of my older cousins observed, “Pretty soon is a long time.”  

So if not, “Forty days,” the answer to “When?” might be “Pretty soon.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...