Thank Your Kids and Teenagers Today for Their Essential Service!

I’m so glad you’re in my bubble, said Varjak to Cleo.

We are collectively holding our breath here.

Over the last 3 weeks or so, we have physically distanced ourselves for the good of our fellow citizens. We have been told by the prime minister of Canada and the premiers, chief medical officers and health ministers of all provinces and territories to do this, and most of us are doing it. And now we are waiting, to see how well it works.

There have been memes floating about which compare the sacrifices of past generations to the sacrifices of this one: “Our great-grandparents had to go to war, but all we have to do is sit on the couch.” It’s funny, it really is, but it’s disparaging, too.

We are all starting to realize what the sacrifices are, and they are huge. So let’s take a moment to acknowledge the strength that is being shown by so many.

We have asked our teenagers to stay away from their friends and activities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for an unknown period of time. For most kids this isn’t easy, but they are doing it without complaint, because they know the stakes.

People on the internet are saying this is easy. But it isn’t. It’s really hard.

A teenager I live with

We have asked our children to digest the news that there is an illness being spread and they have to stay home in order to avoid contracting it and passing it on to people they care about. No matter how carefully we choose our words as parents, no matter how nonchalant our children appear in the face of these conversations, they are thinking about it on some level.

What’s up?

I’m wondering how long this is going to go on for, and how many new people got infected today.

A conversation with a teenager I live with.

We have asked our parents and grandparents to maintain physical distancing, which sometimes means spending a whole lot of time at home without the usual family connections and social interactions and support.

Normally I would be making Sunday dinner for the family right now.

Nan

We have asked many of our small business owners to shut down, and a large part of our workforce to accept a lay-off or reduced hours at work. Yes, our federal and provincial governments have responded with financial support to individuals, families and businesses, as they should. But surely this support will not make up for all the revenue and income that will be lost. And we, the tax payers, will shoulder the burden of debt that our province and country will amass during this time, as we must.

We have asked our health care providers and first responders to potentially expose themselves to a devastating virus, again and again, in order to care for our sick.

We have asked our essential workers, some of whom do not make a living wage, to report to work every day and interact with possibly infected members of the public as they complete their essential tasks.

Almost everyone has risen to the occasion.

The whole scenario that is playing out in our country is a testament to the good of humanity. We are watching, and waiting, and most of us are doing our parts. We are teaching our young people that sometimes you have to do the hard thing in order to do the right thing.

We are not wavering, and our leaders are not wavering, and we have managed to mostly put aside politics and embrace the common good, as we can see from the unlikely friendship that has been forged between Chrystia Freeland and Doug Ford. If you haven’t read about it, google it. It’s really sweet.

The word sacrifice implies that something will be lost as something else is saved or gained. I do not want to even begin to reflect on the losses that individuals and families and businesses will tally during this time, in terms of money or mental or physical health. But it has struck me that, although capitalism is alive and well here, we still can see a bigger picture. The elderly and the vulnerable – our people – are the most important thing.

Many of us have lamented the fact that so many decisions in this world are made as a result of the view through an economic lens. Well, the lens has flipped for now.

Most of us right now, in our concern for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones, are seeing the world through the lens of humanity and compassion and genuine care.

By thanking health-care providers and essential workers loudly and publicly, and by adhering to their pleas to stay at home, we are opening our hearts to the good.

Let’s keep up this trend and give our teens a pat on the back when they wake up this afternoon. They are doing their part for the common good of their fellow human beings, and it is a worthy lesson to learn.

Art and Life, Intertwined

Book Crossed Lovers, 1997

I have always measured my life in books in the same way we categorize events by the song we were listening to at the time.

1990 – Riding around Badger Lake on my dirtbike with Robin, my best friend, hanging off the back balancing a ghetto blaster, while my dog Midnight tore up the road behind us? It could only be John Cougar Mellencamp ringing out loud in that memory. And what was I reading at the time? Cynthia Voigt, Norma Klein, Stephen King, and as many weird and dark accounts of para-psychological misfits as I could get my hands on. I liked strange, oppressive, scary or sad things in my art. I still do.

The other day, Deanne, a friend and book club buddy, nominated me for a book challenge, which involves posting a picture of a book you love every day for seven days on facebook. What fun! I started scanning my bookshelves and digging through old boxes. I had dozens of books I wanted to share, but in the end I picked mostly recent loves and one old childhood favourite – The Secret Garden. I read it 18 times if I read it once.

As I dug about in my pile of books, I came across a forgotten pair.

Literary Criticism, 1996

This pair of books were purchased separately in early September, 1996 by myself and Asher. When we bought our books at the Acadia Bookstore we did not know one another. But this particular novel was one of many on the list for the Literary Criticism course that Asher and I were both enrolled in as a requirement for our English degrees.

We met on the first day of class. I was walking up Linden Street, carting a backpack full of groceries. He was jogging lightly down the street in boxer shorts and a t-shirt, on the way to the corner store to get a newspaper.

When I saw him I did a double take, and not just because he was running down the street in his underwear. He just had an aura. He was happy, he was comfortable. I just knew he was a good soul. Of course, as we neared one another, I was faced with the unnerving prospect of running into him head on. I felt very Meg Ryan as I swerved one way on the sidewalk. He, true to script, swerved the same way. Our eyes met, we giggled, and then we both swerved the other way. We stopped, laughing, and he hopped aside while performing a gallant sweep of his arm, indicating the direction I should take.

I went home and told my roommates about this interesting young man I had met on the sidewalk. I still remember them laughing as I told the story.

Two hours later, I walked into Literary Criticism. Guess who walked in behind me? We looked at each other and grinned and both said, “You’re the girl/guy I ran into on the sidewalk earlier!” He sat next to me and the rest, as they say, is history.

But back to the pair of books. We were assigned certain books to critique and given approximate dates to be prepared to present on. We never quite knew when our professor would call on us. It was a very serious seminar class and there were so many smart people there. They were always ready to present. Asher and I, getting to know one another, were not so interested in the class. We were probably really annoying to the other students. And, as the term went on, we got a little lazy. Or, at least, Asher did.

I will never forget the day Asher was called on to critique Loitering with Intent by Muriel Sparks. He ambled up to the podium and held up the book. “Flirting with Intent,” he said, “was a very interesting read.”

I felt my face grow bright red as his freudian slip registered with the rest of the class and a few people tried to suppress giggles. Asher, either not noticing or caring, continued to rate the book on a scale of 1 to 10. I felt myself slipping lower in my seat. But, Asher, always cool and calm and unconcerned with impressing others, continued by soliciting the class as to their opinions of the book. He ran a nice little discussion, thanked everyone and returned to his seat. “Well,” he whispered to me as our professor glowered at him over his glasses. “I think that went pretty well.”

He never did read the book first nor last. I did read it, and I honestly remember nothing about it. Yet, when I came across this pair of books, unenjoyed and uncelebrated yet kept for many years, the sight of them brought me right back to that fateful class. Asher and I sat there that year, getting to know one another, and we had no idea what was ahead of us.

Asher cooked fajitas and played Buddy Holly on the guitar on our first date. I wanted to impress him so I called my friend, Jude, and said, “what do I pick up to go with Fajitas?” to which she replied, “Corona, of course!” Oh, she was so much more worldly than I was! I could always, can still always, count on Jude.

We are 18 years into our marriage now. We have been busy. At one point, in the span of five years, we had three babies, moved three times, changed jobs four times, and completed two masters degrees. We have also spent a lot of time building traditions, some of them as simple as our morning coffee and chat. We spend time with our kids and our friends and families. We work hard, but we have fun together.

We never thought we would be dealing with a cancer diagnosis this early on in our lives. But, as hard as this must be for him, Asher doesn’t step back any more than he stepped back from that long ago book critique. He just does what he has to do. He doesn’t agonize over things, or wonder, “why.” That carefree, boxer-wearing, newspaper reading, comfortable-in-his-own-skin guy, he just takes life as it comes.

Dad practices piano everyday, and sometimes I like to relax and listen.

I was telling Asher over our coffee this morning that I am starting to feel this difficult time peeling away from me like the skin of an onion. The first, toughest layer is shedding off. I will get there.

But I will be looking back on this time and remembering my dad playing piano to me while I lay on his couch hooked up to my chemo pump while my mom makes me tea. I will remember how Dad and Mom and I shared books together, and these books will go in my collection and I hope I will run my hands over them in 20 or 30 years and think of this.

Minimalists would like me to toss these books, but I never will. I will never toss any of my books. I am doomed to forever carry these books around and someday, hopefully a long time in the future, my loved ones will be forced to sift through them and get rid of them, or decide what to keep. They will not know the stories of all of my books, any more than I know all of the thoughts and memories etched in their hearts, but they will know some.

Like any work of art, each book tells more than one story – there is the story the author laboured over, and the story of the life of the reader.

Why do writers write? Why do writers share their innermost thoughts, their perspectives, their observations? Even a work of fiction reveals so much about the way the author sees the world, or moves in the world.

Why do I share things in a blog? I have asked myself this question many times, and I’m sure people wonder why I put this out there. But, for some reason, I am compelled to. Mostly it is because I hear from others who have experienced similar things or who simply enjoy reading it. This connection feels so right. It is humbling and empowering at the same time.

When you write for an audience, you share ideas and experiences. You start a dialogue. You leave something outside of yourself in the world and you hope it will resonate with just one other person. Your onion skin sheds off, and you become lighter. Awareness can be raised, and changes can come about.

Deanne, the same friend who nominated me for the book challenge, gave me a book about writing through trauma just before my surgery. It was a catalyst for me. It was one of the many perfect gifts I have received lately, not the least of which is your time, dear reader.

I want to thank you. Your time is precious, and I am so glad you lingered here with me and my ramblings for a little while.