Days of future past


It is always a strange thing to face up to a new year and write something to welcome the new in and usher the old out. This has been made even more challenging in the new reality we’ve come to know over the past two years. I looked back at the first issue of 2020, wondering if there was anything there that might seem prescient now. Lots of comments about 2020 vision, and the eerie phrase “hindsight is 2020″. Indeed, it is.

But nothing could have prepared us for what was to come that January. Just three months later, we were being told that we had to stop meeting together, stay at home and stay safe. No-one knew at the time how long that new reality would last, that it was, in fact, a new reality. Maybe, we thought, this may have to be endured for a few weeks. The idea that it could last a month or more was almost literally inconceivable. Yet, here we are, two years later, and there is a general feeling of resignation mixed with impatience, anger, and worry that this is never going away.

It is hard to look forward to 2022 with the same optimism with which we greeted 2020. We know too much now, we’ve seen too many scenes of crowded hospitals, we’ve read the stats of the dead, the new cases coming day after day. We’ve had to deal with isolation, with the anti-vaxxers (a new word to add to our vocabulary, along with new meanings for words like jab and booster). Many of us have had the experience of the Ice Storm of 1998. A very few of us have been in dangerous areas of conflict and threatening violence. There are those who have dealt with medical crises, loss and pain.

But none of us have ever dealt with a pandemic like covid-19, a long, drawn-out drain on our physical and emotional reserves, and it has brought us face to face with aspects of people and society that we had managed to ignore before. We have been shocked and saddened, even angered, by the attitude of those who differ from us regarding restrictions, vaccinations, isolation. Alongside generosity and self-sacrifice, we’ve seen unwillingness to consider the health and welfare of others, a rising tide of conspiracies and rumours that have weakened public trust in traditional institutions that had been respected.

It does sound depressing, doesn’t it? Perhaps it would be better to write an upbeat, positive, optimistic article for the new year, one that makes everyone feel good about life. I would love to live at a time when we could blithely transition from one year to the next: “another year over, and a new one just begun”. But that would not be real. This pandemic time has opened wounds, some of which came as a shock to us. Canada stockpiled vaccinations far and away above what we needed to take care of our people, while most countries went without. We are, justly, proud of the high number of fully-vaccinated citizens, but we seem to ignore the words: “none of us are protected until all of us are protected”.

But national self interest is not the only aspect of the pandemic that should make us rethink our own image as a people. What about those indigenous communities where the virus is running rampant, where there is no comfortable feeling of safety and protection? Why are so many of those communities still without safe water to drink, proper housing, basic amenities such as electricity? The pandemic did not cause any of these things, they have only exacerbated them.

But, if there is a positive note to emphasise here, and I think there is, it is that we have an opportunity to revise our attitudes towards many of the unwelcome aspects of life. At the start of the pandemic, when we began to realise that it was more than a passing irritation, there was a genuine sense that we could come out of it with a greater sense of purpose. We believed that society could change the way it went about things. The environment seemed to prosper through lockdowns. Wildlife returned to urban areas in ways that had not been seen before. People rethought work habits, the hours they spent commuting were exchanged for a more laid back working at home schedule.

It did seem, for a while, that the world would learn something from the short, sharp shock of covid. But then it wasn’t short any more, and the shock began to wear off, to be replaced by an impatience, a turning in and away from bright hopes and ideas about how to make things better. We got tired waiting for the whole thing to be over.

Much of the optimism and idealism of those early days, when we felt united and ready to deal with the entire mess, has been dissipated. The fear is that we will gradually return to a new kind of normal, without really changing the fundamentals of how we live together. Perhaps that’s inevitable. Or perhaps we can hang on to a little of that early sense of possibility and vision and start a new conversation about how and why we do things. There will be two elections this year; provincial and municipal. A perfect opportunity to talk about these things, to reassess what we want from our representatives, and what kind of community we want them to lead us into. At the end of the day, it is a new year and we can use that, admittedly rather artificial, sense of new beginnings. Some new year’s resolutions can become real.


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