I’m writing this today from my locked down silent life that I and pretty much everyone else in the world is doing right now. It’s the Easter long weekend starting tomorrow and I am fortunate enough to have a turkey breast roll in the freezer and all the food we need for the time being. I work from my kitchen table and while there are some limitations in the bandwidth on the VPN, so far my colleagues and I are getting by. I am one of the fortunate ones – I know this, though if things take a turn for the worse here in Canada I am also very much aware that I could just as easily join the many thousands no longer working. I’m needed for now but not essential.
I’ve resisted the temptation to post a tribute to my parents today. The first anniversary of my mom’s passing was on the 5th and the twenty-fifth of my dad’s is today. I have several essays on both of them here so I thought that I’ll do quiet appreciation for them in my own way tonight.
It’s been a while since I last posted anything and that’s okay. I’ve been working in the shadows on an essay that I sent in for the CBC Creative Non-Fiction contest, on myself and am trying to heal after what has been a brutal 2019. A huge part of me wished I could just go away for a while so that I could heal my broken heart and soul and find myself again. Fate has taken an ironic turn though, and I actually have gotten what I thought I needed all this last year: the time to reflect and to step back a bit from life to do that.
We are living in dangerous times and for many it is really hard to understand what the big deal is. What the point is. “Aren’t we overreacting?” They say. It’s going to be somebody else. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense. It’s half a world away. It’s just a cold. It’s only the flu. It’s …[place your favourite saying here]… It can’t happen to my family. The thing is, it can happen.
My mom was born in 1919. She came into the world on heels of the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars that didn’t. The Spanish flu had claimed thousands of young peoples’ lives among others, this at a time when so many Canadians had died fighting for King and Country. She was born at a time of ice boxes and model Ts and crystal radio sets. She was a child in the roaring twenties and then the stock market crashed and the Great Depression set in. As a young woman she saw many friends and relatives go off to war in WWII and some never came back. She was around for the inventions of penicillin, insulin, vaccines, plastic, television, talking movies and technicolor, ball point pens, computers, cell phones, travel to outer space…the list goes on.
My mom always was concerned with the fragility of life. It seemed a little silly to me but as someone who has had relatives die and lie in state in her drawing room, who had a childhood friend die of blood poisoning from an infected cut (“never wear red!”, she warned me – she thought the red dye in her friend’s clothes had poisoned her), who lived through so much on a grand scale that I did listen to her. I was always quick to point out how much things had changed but the reality is people die in unexpected ways no matter how advanced the world is.
I thought for the longest time that the evolution of society had fixed so many things and she – rightly so it turns out – was always just a little skeptical. She appreciated these advances even if some of them like computers and VCRs scared her just a bit. To be honest I think what scared her most was the change in society’s mores and our lifting of the veil on so many hush-hush topics. That subject is for another essay though.
Today I’m focused on how much we’ve taken for granted. This is a lesson that was hammered home to me in 2019 when I realized that you can’t count on people to put aside their differences in hard times and that the senior officer position I tried so long and so hard for that I finally got in 2006 would get taken away with the stroke of a pen 13 years and 1000 kilometres later. I was faced with the certainty that nothing is forever and that there may not be that open door waiting for me when a door closes. I’ve always liked to think there was one. What I did learn is you can’t hope that people will be kind or considerate when you think they will be and that makes me terribly sad. I’ve always liked to believe in that there is a better day coming, and deep down inside everyone has a heart. Maybe not.
With 2020 there is the knowing that sometimes you need to look at the past for lessons and use those lessons to look ahead. What’s happening now in peoples’ attitudes is a little like Y2K when there was the big “oh my God everything’s going to fail” worry and the relief of the “I told you so”s when the world didn’t end.
The thing is, I worked in assets in the late 90’s and we spent a good couple of years identifying all the possible equipment big and small that had software that potentially could crash and either had the software upgraded or replaced them. It was an exercise carried out worldwide and of course the critical equipment was upgraded first. That’s why the Y2K crisis wasn’t: not that it didn’t exist, just that you couldn’t see it. Most of it was fixed before it became a problem. Which is what should have happened here but it’s a bit trickier with viruses.
I was in the Toronto area in the SARs era and it was kind of scary. Driving by the hospital you could smell the hand sanitizer from the street. On the doors there was a sign saying “If you are sick don’t enter” which I though was particularly funny given that this was a hospital. But I knew what it meant, which was sick visitors. Still it gave me a laugh every time. SARs didn’t become the big deal that it could have but what we are dealing with now is a cousin and it is a big deal.
I grew up very much aware of the 1918 pandemic thanks to my mom and her family. They had stories of people who suffered and died. Their reality has shades of what could happen now. And that’s the thing: it hasn’t become that – YET – but it could if we don’t take the lessons learned from that and other pandemics. Even the black death and the doctors who wore those crazy bird noses realized distance and a mask can help, even though that was caused by poor sanitation and rats. Keeping people inside isn’t new, they knew even then that keeping people apart from one another helped. In the early part of the 20th century there was a typhoid epidemic that killed hundreds and it, like the recurring yellow fever epidemics from the previous centuries were eventually stopped by better sanitation and vaccines. And so it will be now if we make the effort not to spread it.
I’ll stop proselytizing now. I’m beyond up to the eyeballs with corona virus information. I’ve taken to not watching television news much and just catching the headlines, watching when there’s something important I want to see about.
Some things that I am appreciating is that like it or not, things are changing. Right now, the Earth is taking a deep breath. The skies are clearing, water is going from dirty to clean, people are having this time with their families and getting back to basics. We’ve proven that teleworking is a functional way to work and save time and money. Children are being home schooled, people are taking up or getting back to hobbies they may have put aside years ago, instead of shopping we’re baking and cooking from scratch and contemplating victory gardens. Dogs are getting walked and for pets, this is the greatest time ever! Time alone means time to think. Time to read, to catch up on things you’ve put aside, to step out of the rat race for a while. I wonder whether we will be as anxious to be living non-stop lives again when the world reboots itself, and it’s important to remember that it will. After the black death that killed half of Europe’s population there came the Renaissance, a flourishing of art and culture and learning. I wonder what kind of renaissance – and I hope there is one – will we see? I just wish that people actually start to show compassion for one another, that’s my dream.
What do you want to see at the end of this? How do you think we will grow?