My sister is making masks for a local hospital, the same hospital where my 5-month old granddaughter will get her standard vaccination against certain diseases in just a few weeks.
My sister’s voluntary mask-making reminds me of women in this area in earlier decades — and in all of Canada, actually — women who knitted thousands of socks for our soldiers in Europe during the second world war.
Because — make no mistake — we are fighting a war, and one that’s getting closer each day to a community near you and me. We are bracing ourselves for an enemy that we cannot see, cannot hear. And for the first time, it truly is a world war — every country is affected.
We can’t opt out or remain neutral. It finds us wherever we are.
Italy, my ‘second home’ when I worked in television, has been among the worst countries affected. Two days ago, I turned on the radio, heard an Italian-based senior journalist I know, and learned that 71 doctors there have died from COVID-19 so far.
It shook me up, and I thought about the many friends I made in that country: the co-workers in television; the shopkeepers I came to know and like.
Suddenly, my connections with far-flung family and close friends seem more urgent, the need to renew or nurture them more significant. I dare not say it, I barely can think it, but I don’t know how many of us will survive this terrible plague. I want to be in touch.
Closer to my actual home, I buy pots of flowers every spring and summer from a local nursery. Owned by an elderly man of European origin, the nursery depends almost entirely on the annual migration of seasonal workers from the Caribbean.
I see them talking with the owner, whom they call “Papa”, and I sometimes stop to eavesdrop on the banter between them. He seems as dedicated to them as they do to him.
But none of that affected me much, except as a charming detail. Until now. That man is too old to manage his nursery on his own; he needs his workers and they need the income. Whole families in Caribbean countries – including Jamaica, my country of birth — depend on their earnings at places like these in Canada.
Less important perhaps, I — and my neighbours and friends — won’t be buying these flowers. Won’t be strolling through the long aisles bordered by containers of violets, geranium, lobelia and other flowers spilling over their sides and making us smile. For gardeners, meandering through the enormous greenhouse and talking with the owner and friendly staff as we make our choices has been a rite of spring in these parts.
Even closer to home, my neighbour is a firefighter. He got called in last week to sub for colleagues at another fire station when someone got exposed to COVID-19.
“Do you worry about your own safety?” I ask.
He tells me he feels safe in the protective gear firefighters wear. But I still pray for him every night. He and his wife and two young children are cherished friends.
Another neighbour and his wife live in Mexico in winter. When Canada gave the ‘snowbirds’ 2 weeks to come home, they caught one of the first flights and went into quarantine for 14 days. Days ago, we were overjoyed to see them in their garden and waved what felt like a long-distance ‘welcome home’.
Yet another neighbour, a lawyer, is normally busy at this time of year with real estate deals. But houses aren’t selling much these days — who wants to walk through a stranger’s house, not knowing what germs they may touch? Not knowing if they will even have a paycheque next week?
Fear of the virus affects my husband’s business too, one which depends on face-to-face interactions. He won’t lay off his staff, I know. It means we have to watch our family budget. Every dollar counts.
Canadians like our families want to support our local businesses – the supermarket, the nursery, the bakery, the bookstore. We want local people to have jobs. But more and more, we are staying home for fear of contracting the deadly virus and are instead ordering online from big business. It’s not our preference, of course.
We’re not building bomb shelters — unless you count all the things we are not doing, all the ways in which we are protecting ourselves in order to stay safe. But like people living in times of war, we are also cherishing existing connections and perhaps making a few new ones.
This week, we started a local Facebook group for our street. We had planned to share stories about our countryside neighbourhood and our good fortune to live here in the bosom of nature. So far, though, the posts getting the most response are the ones sharing tips about how to get through this frightening time. Perhaps equally significant: neighbours who’ve rarely talked to each other are communicating.
Some of you know my philosophy: that bad stuff often paves the way for good things to happen in response. I hope this is what will happen. I hope the better angel within each of us will prevail, that we’ll be able to preserve the best of our way of life, while letting go of the worst of our human behaviours. And I hope my loved ones and I will be around to see it happen.
Stay safe, my friends. Stay well.