One year ago, my friends and I were deciding on which party to attend to celebrate the arrival of 2020. I imagined the year to come as my own perfect blank slate to fill in with new experiences and happy habitual encounters with friends and family. I took it for granted that 2020 would be like every other year before it.
The reality of the virus came to life for me at a work-related meeting in February. The meeting was immediately cancelled within minutes of learning that a masked participant had just arrived from a Covid hotspot in Asia.
During the months of spring, I recall the mounting ever-present anxiety that seemed to weigh like a heavy fog. Shoppers would give each other a wide berth in the grocery store aisles and in shops at the mall. At that time, there was more concern about how long the virus could survive on surfaces. Now I know it permeates the air and that proper ventilation of indoor spaces is important.
Workplace measures were implemented at my own office. New rules for office etiquette grew out of the pandemic Pandora’s box of never-ending surprises. Long emails about Covid-19 work protocols were circulated. I now have my temperature taken daily before entering the office, and I have to complete an online questionnaire the moment I arrive at my desk.
Most work meetings have been virtual this past year. Video conferences are also being used by my friends and family, but some exchanges just feel flat and they don’t fill me up the way in-person gatherings do. Perhaps it is too easy to leave a Zoom meeting or even to mentally check out of a conference while I am apparently still in my own tiny on-screen square.
Masks are now commonplace everywhere you go, but I recall moments in the heat of the summer months when I would struggle to decide on whether to use a mask or not while running mundane errands.
Over the past year, there would be online resources that I would come to rely upon for information about Covid-19. There are three websites that I recommend:
In addition to these websites, I like Harvard Medical School’s Coronavirus Resource Centre as it is user-friendly and very informative. CBC radio has also had an abundance of programming on Covid-19 issues. Some online newspapers and magazines have offered free access to their articles on the coronavirus. The New York Times online paper offers readers a chance to, “Read the most important news and useful guidance on the coronavirus outbreak, which The New York Times is providing for free to help readers understand the pandemic.”
With the deluge of available information on Covid-19, I probably need to disconnect from all the Covid noise that surrounds us as the days of 2020 dwindle down to the last few days of December. I am hoping to leave the loss and isolation of this year behind. I will even hungrily eat up the cliché “light at the end of the tunnel” promises of vaccines that are just over the horizon. For now, the vaccine vials remain a miraculous mirage that have yet to manifest themselves at my local drug store and walk-in clinic.
With the arrival of amber and crimson falling leaves in autumn and the rise of Covid-19 cases, I was ushered back indoors. In the abundant moments of solitude, I have had an opportunity to confront and understand my own demons and angels. In the endless tumble of moments, minutes and hours on my own, I have come to realize just how much I miss everyone.
This pandemic has left me more conscious of myself as an individual and of my roles in my own family and community. I have witnessed the grit and strength of those thrown into the depths of financial despair and those drowning under the incessant crushing tidal waves of grief. I have witnessed the ugliness of human nature and how isolation, fear, and judgment can corrode relationships as well as culture.
Terrible things have come to pass over this year but there have also been beautiful unexpected moments and the gift of unexpected heroes. Individuals and communities have faced challenges with determination and creativity. Some of the precious positive memories I plan to bring with me into the dawn of 2021 are these: the beautiful spontaneous moments of music that spung from balconies in Italy, the startling images of pollution-free skies over empty highways in China, the image of a doctor in Houston comforting the husband of a Covid patient, and the steely strength, kindness and compassion of Dr. Bonnie Henry. I will also treasure my own memories of friendships rekindled and the triumph of finding new ways to forge more meaningful relationships with family and friends.
If this past year has been a nightmare, all I really want to do is to wake up now and tell anyone who will listen to me that I’ve learned my lessons well. Our front-line health care workers are burning out as hospitals creep toward capacity. If I am tired, they must be exhausted. Their own recovery from this war with the virus may well run parallel to that of the recovering Covid-19 long-haulers.
Through the quiet white of winter and my barren holiday calendar, I must try to will myself to make it back to a place of peace, tranquility, and happiness in 2021. I have been there sometimes, and like birds migrating to a familiar place, I need to trust that I am wired to find balance and to find my way home.
I now know just how much we need one another, how much we need conversation, touch, and connection. Simple gestures like holding someone’s hand or lending a kind empathetic ear will bring to life the best of who I truly am. Hopefully, we can all experience some form of relief and release from stress as we move into 2021. I know that I can do this while faithfully treasuring the memories of loved ones lost and keeping those who are with me even closer than ever before.
As the lights are turned back on in theatres, concert halls and in the pubs, restaurants and shops that have miraculously survived, I will once again be able to breathe easily and to fearlessly drink in what I have concluded is the true elixir of our common humanity: being present and grateful for one another and simply sharing what we each have to offer. In 2020 I have learned that some of the most precious elements for my own survival are the bridges I build and the tapestries I weave with each individual that I happen upon along my own winding transient trail of life.
On turning to the fresh blank page of 2021, I hope to always keep in mind that each and every person I meet is a gift and that each moment is something out of which I can create beauty and meaning. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau:
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”
I want to wish all of you and your loved ones health, happiness, and all the best in 2021.