Once we heal, a Stronger World will Emerge.
You won’t remember this Pandemic accurately. When you look back upon this time you’ll have forgotten the pure uncertainty of this moment. Hindsight re-organizes the undecipherable into clear obvious stories about the past. We’ll assure ourselves that what happened next was predictable, even “inevitable”. But I’m here to remind you, right here, right now, at this instant, it is not.
Stuck in this surreal slow-motion emergency, our grasp on the future is tentative. The present seems implausible. Whatever comes next will be met with equal disbelief. All options are on the table: perhaps our civilization will be shaken to its foundation, or maybe we will casually shrug off this temporary plague. The lack of clarity is discomforting. Yet only because life has been pretty good so far. People like me are unacquainted with humanity’s turbulent past, but we’re about to get an introduction.
Wandering in an antique store 8 years ago, I stumbled across an insightful reminder of that history. It was an old scrapbook from WWII. It contained only aged newspaper clippings, depicting a gritty story of conflict that consumed the world. Of course we all know how that story ends, but turning the pages of the scrapbook unveiled a different reality — an evolving narrative where the end was not yet in sight. The author of the scrapbook was piecing together a world that was falling apart, struggling to understand where these events would take them. They too, faced an uncertain future.
Yet, there is hope visible on the horizon. That’s normal, the psychologists tell us. We’re merely at the “heroic” phase — usually the first stage of a crisis. It precedes the descent into hopelessness. But again, that’s future hindsight story-ism talking. We don’t know where we are in this supposed roadmap, or even whether a true crisis lies ahead. Perhaps hope is merely our temporary life raft — what the psychologists prescribe in order to begin our journey through difficult times. Sure, I’ll step into the life raft with my designated ration of hope. But I won’t concede it as an illusion, rather, I see a sturdy vessel with the strength to carry us through.
Our life raft of hope is not alone. Others like it are setting sail in the most unlikely of places. The medical staff who are briskly preparing for what they know will be the battle of their lives. They harbour no illusions about this. They’ve spoken to colleagues in Italy, and know how this Pandemic plays out. It manifests as a cut-to-the-chase problem solving mentality where all former bets are off. One doctor asks another how they can possibly conserve their protective equipment and wear it all day without removal. The matter-of-fact response: ‘easy, just put on a pair of adult diapers’. A nurse confesses she’s scared, but gathers her courage with a consistent reminder to herself, ‘I’m trained for this’. Only privately do I learn the real seat of her fear — she’s pregnant. No amount of gratitude we can offer seems sufficient, yet none is asked for. No, these aren’t just people doing their jobs, the job alone is not worth it under the circumstances. These are ordinary people, stepping up in extraordinary times. They are, the unsinkable.
There’s a growing number of these (extra)ordinary people. One of them left a note on my doorstep yesterday. “Dear Neighbour”, it began, “We would like to offer assistance.” A wonderful option for those that need a helping hand, and a heartwarming gesture for those of us who don’t. Businesses small and large are supporting their communities in this time of need. One Toronto based husband and wife team is offering free appliance repair to anyone who can’t afford it during the pandemic. In New Jersey, the two brothers that own Federico’s Pizza took out a $50,000 loan two weeks ago. As the provider for their employees, they figured it’d allow them to pay their staff for the next two months regardless of how things pan out. Says one of the brothers, “My father told us a long time ago: You’ve got to take care of your employees first, because without those employees, you don’t have a business at all.” Other restaurants, facing impending closure, decided their food might as well go to a good cause. In a rural Ontario community, the Acoustic Grill took all the food they had on hand, then cooked and delivered 200 free meals and produce within the local community. Vesta, a small 24-hour diner, closed it’s doors for the first time in 50 years, but set aside a weekend to offer free baskets of bread and eggs for pickup. Meanwhile, Little India Restaurant, provides free food to anyone who says “I need a meal”, no questions asked. They promise to keep going until they run out of either food or budget. Caterer Chef Jagger Gordon has committed to funding 30,000 meals, the most he can afford on his own. Says Jagger, “we’ll be preparing meals for people. We’ll do it until the end, until this is all over.” Others are taking their skills online. With classes cancelled, many school systems are struggling to figure out how move education online. Some, like Music teacher Brian Okamoto, have decided to simply plunge ahead, creating resources like Mr. Okamoto’s House of Music (a new video episode every day) that let him keep right on teaching.
Big organizations are stepping up to the plate too, whether it’s converting a factory floor to produce ventilators or masks, or $100 million donations. But the smaller efforts are easiest to relate to on a personal level. These are regular people, doing extraordinary things in an extraordinary time. Taking a closer look, we realize that perhaps, yes, we too ought to count ourself among them. There’s no silver bullet to fight the virus, it’s all the little things. Staying at home, saving on unnecessary trips, washing your hands, giving a wide berth to the people walking by. But it’s also about playing our part in a holistic system, where everyone depends upon everyone else. A helping hand here, or donating spare skills or resources. Patience and understanding helps us avoid making assumptions. Even the smallest word or gesture can make a big difference.
The truth is this — we are all in this together. Whether we know it or not, regardless of our nation or our politics, we depend on each other. We are all connected. If this terrible virus has given humanity a single gift, it’s to truly understand that. We are leaves of the same tree, waves of the same ocean. We can’t make it alone, we need all of us.
So, when will things return to normal? Hopefully, it won’t. In this crisis, we are learning a lot about what’s truly important and what isn’t. We see examples about what it means to be human — how we can hold the line, and have each others backs — even when times get tough. If we remember this time, things will never go back to normal. We shouldn’t want them to. We have a rare opportunity to make things better.
We will heal, and a stronger world will emerge.