I remember a family trip when I was very young, my parents taking my brothers and I to the seaside for a day out. Exasperated at the constant bickering of three small boys in the back seat of a small car, all of us taking turns to shout “are we there yet?”, my dad pulled into a layby on the side of the road. “Yes,” he said, and distributed the sandwiches. We were on a hill, I remember, and watched some cows in a field as we ate. Then we turned around and drove home.
It seems to me that at some point we shall just have to decide that we have arrived at the end of the COVID tunnel. As Senator George Aiken is reputed to have said, some 55 years ago in reference to the Vietnam War, perhaps we should just declare victory and go home.
Sixteen months. 487 days and counting. That’s how long this journey has been, since the pandemic was declared on 13 March 2020.
It’s not actually a long time, at least not in the temporal sense. Our history books are littered with references that suggest a much longer assault – the first voyage of Captain Cook to circumnavigate the globe, 3 years, 1768-1771; World War Two, 6 years, 1939-1945; the Black Death, 7 years, 1346-1353; prohibition, 13 years, 1920-1933; the Hundred Years war, 116 years, 1337-1453; and the residential school system, 169 years, 1828-1997.
We’re not even at the two-year mark of this one and we’re all getting bored with it all. Having to wear masks, not being able to hug or shake hands, sitting in ‘sold-out’ venues that are actually half-full of cordoned off empty seats; BORING!
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer now, and that makes it worse. We want to go to the beach, to eat ice cream, to sit out under shading trees and listen to live music, to wander and browse through farmers’ markets. When the autumn comes, and then goes, we will probably manage to hide ourselves back inside for another winter.
And the politicians know and understand this. Now is a time to celebrate, they tell us, a time to declare the end of the journey. Are we there yet? Yes!
We believe them, because we want to. Even though we know it’s not true. We can read the news reports as well as any commentator or anchor desk, we see the havoc wreaked by each new variant.
We know that there are still countries in the world where no vaccinations have happened. None. We know that there are countries where vaccination rates are low, or where only a favoured few have received the two doses required to be considered fully immunized.
I check Our World in Data’s vaccination data, sometimes, to see how things are going in those places where I have lived and worked, where friends and family live. Afghanistan, 0.5%; Kosovo, 3.2%; Australia, 8.3%; New Zealand, 10.2%; Colombia, 16%; Sweden, 34.3%; United States, 48.2%; United Kingdom, 51.3%; There are no data for Papua New Guinea.
Here in Canada, we are at 40.5%. And, as of Friday 9 July, that includes me. I got my second shot, Moderna again, and this time did have a bit of a reaction. It was over quickly, though, and I seem to be OK now. They gave me a little sticker that read: “I got my shot. Did you?”
It seems that I shall have to wait another two weeks before the vaccination is actually working. Even then, it doesn’t mean that I won’t catch COVID, only that I probably won’t die from it. Which is comforting. A comfort that only lasts as long as a new variant, I guess, but it’s better than nothing. Am I there yet? Not quite.
It seemed appropriate, then, to sit on my double-dose pinnacle and have a look in both directions, forward and back. What did I do during the pandemic? What are my plans for the future?
To look in the rear-view mirror first. I must confess that I spent most of the pandemic in a cocoon, pulling the blankets over my head and trying to pretend nothing was happening. Not very mature, I concede, but it worked. It helped that I was not alone.
Here on Prince Edward Island, our biggest regret was that the Confederation Bridge had been designed and marketed as “the longest bridge in the world crossing ice covered water.” With the ferries and the airport closed, we would have been much happier with being able to say that we had “pulled up the longest drawbridge in the world.” That way we would not have had to report out-of-province number plates for stopping at shops when they were supposed to drive straight through or write letters to the paper about summer residents sneaking in when they weren’t supposed to be at their cottages.
We were so fortunate here, in so many ways. Over the last sixteen months we have had 208 cases, with no deaths and only one hospitalization. To put that in context, our total resident population is 160,000 people. We had what were considered by some to be draconian rules about mask wearing, indoor and outdoor gatherings, health checks at the border for rotational workers and other ‘essential visitors’, and so forth. These rules worked, no matter what the seventeen protesters with their “Shamdemic” placards tried to say, every Sunday afternoon in front of the War Memorial.
My favourite coffee shop remained open, they moved tables around until they were 2 metres apart and my friends and I wore our masks until we were sitting down with our latte and our pain au chocolat. One of our local entrepreneurs found a way to keep his venue open, albeit only with 50 guests, but by raising ticket prices a tad he was able to put on shows which covered his rent and paid the musicians, so I got to a concert every month or so. Gas prices stayed low until a few weeks ago, so I was able to drive out to the big garden nearly every day without bankrupting myself. And on rainy days, there was always the cocoon.
When I ventured out from the cocoon, I took on a couple of desk-based contracts which kept my consultancy company afloat. I reviewed some articles for a couple of journals. I was appointed to the Council of the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Prince Edward Island and then, at the first meeting, elected chair! This continued participation in the edges of the academy no doubt contributed to my being appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of Prince Edward Island, an honour which I greatly appreciate and of which I am unquestionably proud.
My home-town soccer club, Leeds United, were promoted to the Premier League, and thanks to international television broadcasters I was able to watch every single one of their 38 league games during the year, plus a couple of cup ties. We finished the season in 9th place, which was not too shabby at all. This year promises even greater glory! MOT.
Of course, I did not really take full advantage of this pause in our lives. I did not learn how to play a musical instrument, nor did I improve my conversational French or any other language. I didn’t even deep clean the house and downsize boxes of ‘stuff’ out to the charity shop or Kijiji.
I did write a novel, though. My first one, Traces, is a simple story. According to the publishers’ blurb:
Traumatized after witnessing a military incursion, a man flees his hometown in a quest to reunite with his family. A modern-day voyageur, he lives off the land, and his wits, as he traverses the prairies and waterways of western Canada. As he tries to evade whoever might be pursuing him, he inadvertently leaves traces of his passing. Traces which will reveal the man he really is. Or will they?
It will be published on 1 September 2021. You can pre-order an e-book version now on Amazon, and both other formats and print copies ought to be available at the end of August. If you read it, please let me know what you think.
And yes, I’m already working on the second!
Which is a nice segue into the future plans part of today’s blog. I have been asked to write a chapter for a forthcoming handbook on Educational Leadership, so that’s a priority, as is working on my second novel. In two weeks, I shall be able to apply for the PEI Pass, a new document you can get which acts as a sort of vaccination passport and means that you don’t have to quarantine for 2 weeks if you travel anywhere.
I’m hoping that flights will start to get back to normal soon, as it would be wonderful to travel to British Columbia and visit with our youngest daughter and her husband, who live just north of Vancouver. I am still not sure when international travel will be normalized again, but hopefully 2022 will see some movement on that front.
The pandemic has also shown us that perhaps we don’t need such a big house, and so we are starting to consider that very trendy word, downsizing. I’ve no idea where we’d put all our stuff, though, if we go through with the idea. What does one do with two thousand (+) books, with walls of paintings and prints, with shelves of sculptures and artefacts? Where would I put George the General, a 2/3 scale replica of one of the terracotta warriors, who I had shipped back from Xi’an? What about the clay pots that we bought nearly 50 years ago, in isolated villages on the Sepik River? How does one differentiate between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, and put comparative values on each? Is that possible?
With regard to the question of downsizing and relocating, then, are we there yet? No, not at all.