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Lessons Learned in a Pandemic

Well, it has been a busy -- and unusual -- week at our house so far. First, temperatures soared to 36 degrees on June 2. That's a record breaker. And, in my not-air-conditioned house, nasty. Second, it is grad week for my youngest.

Graduation in 2021 looks different than other years. Sheena has plans to go to University next year, so this week included her finding herself a summer job so she can save up funds. That led to the realization that she has lost her SIN card, so yesterday we drove to Vernon to order her a new one.

On the drive, we talked about her grad event. They are going to get to have a convocation ceremony, but it is going to be held outdoors in the parking lot where they will set up a red carpet for the graduates. They will walk in groups of ten while the parents of their grads get to drive thru at the same time. Honestly, I'm not sure how it is all going to work, but at least they are trying to honour the grads, and it will definitely be a grad to remember.

That discussion led me to ask her the question which has been on my mind a lot lately: What has this pandemic taught you that you think you will always remember?

Her first answer was negative: "People are selfish." (Mine, "People are crazy.") Although I guided us both away from our first instincts, I know what she means. I watched her this past year as members of her age group continued with social functions, group events, and parties while she -- stayed home. Then had to quarantine when people around her inevitably became sick.

We are both still baffled when we see foreign license plates -- despite BC having a ban on non-essential travel. Even just yesterday, we encountered multiple plates from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even two from Ontario. And, okay, we are giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are here for legit reasons. Well, except for the two Alberta plates at the beach yesterday. Did you guys not get the memo?

Pre-pandemic, if we saw a foreign license plate, there would be a little quickening of interest at how far that person had travelled to visit. "Look, mom, that car is from California!" Now, though, honestly, my reaction to seeing a non-BC plate isn't printable. My thought is, Go home! Because, people are selfish. And when you don't listen to the health authorities, disease spreads, businesses are forced to shut down, and everyone else suffers because you thought the rules didn't pertain to you.

And that really is what goes through my head when I see a foreign license plate these days. What follows, is, geez. I don't like feeling (being) this way. I live in a tourist destination -- I want to go back to the days where it was exciting to see where other people were from and be able to welcome them in with open arms and expensive local products. The sense of corporate hospitality is one thing the pandemic has cost me. Yesterday as I was dumping our travelling Starbucks garbage into the waste bin at the beach in front of the trailer with the Alberta plates on it, I asked Sheena the rhetorical question, "Do you think we will always feel like this when we look at an out-of-place license plate?"

Sheena didn't have an answer any more than I did. I hope this feeling doesn't stick, though. On the other hand, here are some of the lessons learned which Sheena and I hope not to forget.

Cars really are adding pollution to our environment.

I love my car. I love driving. One thing I have put on hold due to the pandemic is a travel writing blog and book I have in mind. That said, for three months at the beginning of this pandemic, British Columbia was largely shut down. No one was driving anywhere. Here, in the valley where I reside, the difference in our atmosphere was amazingly visible. The air quality was unbelievable. It was so good! And it took about two weeks for it to go back to normal once things opened up and people were driving again. It made me think, man, even if we had a mandatory shut down for one month every year, what a difference that would make to the Earth!

People are amazingly adaptive.

Two days a week, I work in a senior's independent living building. This week, for the first time in months, those who wished were able to go to indoor church services. They were so excited! And yet... the week prior, those who wished to go had outdoor church services they could attend. I spoke to one woman's daughter and she sang the praises of their priest. "He's young and full of ideas. He has really figured out ways to still meet the needs of the parish."

Here in Kelowna there has been some resistance to health orders around meeting permissions and size limits. In particular, one church has flouted government health regulations. I have no time for that. To me, you are a blight on the reputation of the Church. Personally, I wish your license to operate could be revoked and your building leases terminated. (Did I mention that the pandemic has not made a nicer person?) And the reason I feel that way? Because it just doesn't have to be an issue. You just don't have a legit argument.

So many businesses (and churches) have found ways to adapt to changing realities and regulations while they prioritize the health of their people and communities -- even when there is a real cost to doing so. Churches have gone online or met in smaller numbers or in appropriately sized home group settings. Restaurants have extended patios. Writer's groups have met in Zoom chat groups, educators taught online. People have managed to maintain friendships despite not being able to meet in person, jobs have adapted to remote office spaces. Life has gone on. The capacity of the human brain to find solutions to problems and to adapt is something we have all had the chance to see in action this year. That is one lesson I hope I never forget.

Politicians really do make an impact.

When Covid was first becoming known, Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie, became sick with the virus. No one knew much of anything about it yet, except that people were dying. A photo of her shortly after she was back on her feet had her looking exhausted and it looked like she had lost a lot of weight. My suspicion was, she had a rough time with the disease. I've always thought that was likely a big part of why our Prime Minister took the immediate pro-active approach to fighting Covid 19 in Canada.

Contrast that with the approach of other world leaders -- err, what's that guy's name again, Trump? -- and I have said Sophie Trudeau saved a lot of Canadian lives. You don't have to look any farther than to the death toll in the country south of our own to have a visual reminder of what a difference politicians can make. With respect to all you Americans who lost loved ones, and healing thoughts as you grieve.

So, get out there and vote. Oh, and thank you, Justin! Doing a hard, thankless job well.

Masks lives. Plus, they show off personalities or even daily moods. Plus, they accessorize. I mean, they also hide my dimples and make me sweat and break out in unfortunate places, and I'm not saying I don't hope the day comes when we don't need them anymore. But, did I mention, masks save lives? Wear your mask!

Empathy is important.

This from Sheena. Or, rather, from a meme she saw which I am now going to butcher. Sheena says that over the past year, she has realized it is important to be more empathetic towards others. Her example, people speak about how difficult it is to readapt to life opening up again. And, I have to agree. There is a certain amount of anxiety around the idea of daily interactions post-Covid which did not exist previously. Do I really want to sit in a restaurant without a mask on? Is it really safe now? Are they sure?

Her meme said, for all of you talking about how hard it is to adapt to reopening, imagine how hard it is for an incarcerated person to reintegrate to society. (Told ya I'd butcher it.) The point is true, though. For as many ways as our society has to re-educate itself, there are many people struggling more and in more difficult ways. Mental health distress has risen, generalized anxiety has intensified, the unknown has landed, and we are all just trying to feel our way through this thing together. So, empathy. Even if your license plate is not from here. :)

Technology. How terrifying would this be without it?

There have been a lot of comparisons between Covid 19 and the Spanish Influenza. One of the major differences in our pandemic compared to theirs is the Internet. We have information at our fingertips. And entertainment. And education. We can see and hear people we love without being in the same room together. We get regular global updates (good or bad -- you decide). Our medical technology is better than any other time in history. Zoom (need I say more). What would this past year have been like if Bill Gates hadn't been born yet?

And we think we've had it bad!

Scientists are amazing, and I didn't know I'd feel the way I did when my mom and dad got their vaccination.

I mean, a vaccine in under a year? Come on, people. Scientists are way undervalued, and our health care system is taken so for granted. Who is honking horns and banging pots for our scientists?

When my mom told me she and dad had actually been Phizered (next blog -- new words spawned in the pandemic), I wanted to cry. I felt this immense relief to anxiety I hadn't realized I'd been carrying. My parents were going to live! Literally, that was how I felt.

Canada is a great place to live.

I already knew this, but nothing like living next to the States the past four years then topping that off with a pandemic to bring it on home.

It is beautiful here. Geographically, we are a land of variety. We possess great natural resources, and our land mass means we have plenty of wide open spaces per capita. We have farmers and orchardists and vineyards and ranchers. We live in spaces with a glut of outdoor recreation, and excellent fresh drinking water resources.

We have universal health care, a social net, free public school education, our own football league, our own beer, and publicly funded arts. We have Quebec. Newfoundland. Anne of Green Gables. Bryan Adams. And best of all, Beautiful British Columbia. Plus, our politicians are only rarely caught with their pants down. Because, yes, we are nice.

I mean, no one is as nice as you say we are, but still, most of us really are pretty nice. We are growing increasingly diverse, and most of us embrace that with interest and culinary gratitude.

We aren't perfect. But I love it here.

Many of the things we call essential just... aren't.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Sheena what Covid had cost her, particularly in relation to her grad year. Normally, there would have been events happening all year long which she would have attended. Of course, they were all cancelled. At the beginning of the year, there were some unhappy comments about this out of her mouth. Justifiably so. 2021 was not the grad year any of them envisioned. Those grumblings, though, stopped a while back. I commented, "It feels to me like once you accepted the way things were, you haven't really missed those events much." She agreed.

Oh, of course she would have preferred to have a different grad experience. The lack of an unsanctioned grad campout, though, really has not negatively affected her life.

Over the past year, I've realized that many of the things we consider essential to North American life are not essential to living at all. They are simply our way of life here on this corner of the globe. Vacations? A luxury. Travel? Fun but no one will die if they can't leave their hometown. Watching a movie inside a theatre? Way too expensive, anyway. Starbucks?

I spent much of the pandemic working at Starbucks, and lemme just say, that will give you a particular point of view. Those of us working in the coffee shops of Canada were deemed essential services. Wrong. I gotta tell ya, y'all could have made your own coffee this year. Mind you, the paychecks of those of us working in coffee shops this year were essential (and appreciated). That feeling you get when you go to a coffee shop and spend as much on a single mug as an entire bag of beans would have cost at the store? To me, that feeling can be summed up in one word: normalcy. Life is crazy, but this right here? This is normal, so maybe we are all okay, after all. So, maybe Starbucks really was essential after all... nah.

It is good to express gratitude to those putting their lives on the line for the rest of us.

It's five o'clock -- time to bang pots for health care workers. And how beautiful was that? Here in Kelowna, the RCMP, First Responders, and the fire trucks, spent several weeks driving through the hospital corridor with lights flashing and sirens going in a show of solidarity with health care workers. For a time, Starbucks employees brought free bags of coffee and boxes of tea to police stations and to the hospital in an expression of gratitude. As one of those employees, I can say the result was a feeling of connectedness to the community. I also remember driving past a fire truck and noticing that the driver was wearing his mask inside the truck. That was when it really struck home for me just how much more difficult and dangerous the pandemic made the lives of these people who spend their day serving the community where I live in ways you couldn't pay me enough to do. I don't want to -- nor have to. Because other people have stepped up and are taking care of us all while we sleep soundly in our beds. Thanks emergency workers and first responders for putting your lives on the line so I don't have to!

Some parts of life really are essential.

Although Sheena did not ultimately miss grad events too much, I did learn something from all that was lost this past school year. Sheena is my little athlete, and in any normal year, you would find me sitting in the bleachers at her school possibly yelling my opinion of the ref's lousy calls (in which the ref is always wrong and Leigh is always right) or screaming my head off when our team made the point. I didn't get to do any of that this year, because Sheena didn't get to play games this year. That sucked.

Sports would have to go into my list of things that just aren't really essential (not in times of a pandemic, at least), but that said, I've put four kids through the Okanagan's school system. That means, for the past twenty-one years, my kids and I have been part of school districts 22 and 23, and now it is done. Uh, excuse me, where's my graduation present?

It doesn't really feel real, and yesterday, talking with Sheena, I realized a big part of that is because those normal traditions and rites of passage which mark a school year's progression, didn't happen. The volleyball team didn't go to Regionals, or fight with KSS, or buy the coaches a thank you gift. I didn't smile and sit beside the teammates' parents and feel the comraderies of our kids united in a goal. Volleyball season didn't end. Soccer season didn't start. How am I supposed to process time without them?

I realized, the traditions we live with do more than just make capitalism thrive. They are the demarcations of our lives progressing. And that is essential.

Access to health care is essential. Who has the worst job in the country right now? Dr. Bonnie Henry. Is it just me, or does she look exhausted? And yet, who has the most essential job in the country right now? Dr. Bonnie Henry. At least, she's riding the top of the charts.

In Canada, we really do take our universal health care system for granted. It's not perfect. Not by a long shot, but I am glad I live in a country which wants its citizens to have access to medical care.

Grocery store workers, truckers, cleaners, pharmacists, gas station attendants, pet store workers, bus and cab drivers, bankers, all you unsung average Joes -- are essential.

The people I call my loved ones are essential. When it came right down to it this year, that was my bottom line. Debt rising? Stress rising? Fun decreasing? Who the heck cares, 'cuz my people are good. That was it. The people I love have stayed healthy. I and all four of my children have been tested for Covid at one point, and not one of us tested positive. My parents are alive and getting their second vaccine in four days. I and three out of four of the kids have had our first vaccine. My son's wife, currently in China, is well. My daughter's boyfriend was vaccinated yesterday. My siblings and their families are well.

We are fortunate. I do know people who experienced Covid and really didn't like it much. Some ended up in hospital. All survived. The same, sadly, cannot be said of the families of some of my American friends.

People have died, and we grieve their loss. In the years to come, Canada is going to have some definite belt-tightening to do since we were supported financially by our government this year. Some people's businesses will not survive. This year will makes its way into the history books.

Which leads me to the last thing I have learned and will strive to keep in the front of my memory:

Problems mean I am alive.

For that, I am thankful.

I have toilet paper and a fast Internet connection.

I got this.

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