It can be difficult to stand still, to feel the wind, to be aware of bees, to not move as they buzz near my ears. It is a requirement, though: they have important stuff to do.
So I stand still for a moment. I breathe deeply. There is perfume in the air from a mixture of mown grass and the freshly picked chamomile I hold in my hand. I sense the warmth of the sun on my dark hair.
It’s important for me to breathe deeply, otherwise I can get lost in a flurry of activities. I notice that I don’t breathe deeply when I look at a screen. I don’t breathe deeply when I’m behind the wheel of a car. I don’t breathe deeply inside a shop. Rather, my deep breaths only happen when I find that my thoughts are too jumbled. Usually I’m outside.
I need to breathe deeply right now. I am one of many parents who have been faced with a choice, or in some cases no choice at all, to send their children back to school within the next few days and weeks while a pandemic still rages. It has been difficult to sift through the data and wonder what the best approach will be. It is tempting to scurry about and do little tasks to distract myself from the decision that has to be made, but that is not helpful.
These little moments of clarity are helpful for me, though, for the decision that has to be made. They make time go more slowly, or at least they remind me that I am a blip in time. This moment is one of many in a minute, which is one of many in an hour, which is one of many in a day, which is one of many in a week, which is one of many in a month, which is one of many in a year, and so it goes.
2020 is one year. It is unlikely many of us will forget the year that the novel coronavirus raced around the world. In some ways, however, it has made us breathe differently, perhaps more carefully, perhaps more wistfully. We feel overwhelming loss. There are many countries that have succumbed to this pandemic, and within those countries are many communities, and within those communities are many neighbours, families and friends, and so it goes.
While I am fortunate to have not lost a dear one to the pandemic and I sympathize with those who have, I also feel one overarching loss: the loss of what was considered status quo. It is frightening and thrilling to face. It’s also enormous.
It would be easiest to distract myself from seismic changes, but many changes are happening and more are coming. The writer Naomi Klein has commented on the opportunities this brings: as governments have supplemented incomes in countries around the world, people in those countries have been pondering a more just society, less divided by class and wealth. On the other hand, some titans of the economy have distinguished their bank accounts even more than before, and they have the clout to make those distinctions permanent.
Other seismic shifts include how we view caring for the most vulnerable in our society, as well as how we value health care and education. It is not for naught that numerous parents groups have started to demand smaller classrooms, better facilities, better equipment for educators and their support staff. Parent councils and volunteers have been patching up school shortages for years, and the pandemic has taken off any hazy film left on that sepia-toned mental picture I have of education.
How is it that volunteer groups of parents have been raising funds for ventilation systems in schools? How is it that teachers can count on a single hand the number of washroom facilities in a school that hosts hundreds of students?
I consider education a fundamental human right for everyone, regardless of class, wealth, skin colour, sexuality and other distinctions. That right entails access to clean water, air, healthy environments and safe spaces. To hear that these things are too expensive to provide to children and educators makes my stomach tetchy.
So I go back to breathing deeply, taking careful stock of the situation. After all, breathing deeply reminds me not only of the little things, like the insects, but also how they altogether affect the big things, like crops, which feed more than just me. And I stay standing still, because awareness of the smallness of me and the largeness of my world is a good thing to remember, just as it is good to remember that though I am one, I can make a difference.
Due to COVID-19….
Many of us have seen the start to that sentence. I know I have started to glaze over the warning, whether it is about delays, reduced hours, special instructions, or whatever the case may be. It is, however, something that unites all of us on every continent: a pandemic the world over has changed the way we see one another, for better or for worse.
I hope it will be for the better. As we see numbers of deaths increase, we all acutely feel loss. No one has ever not felt loss. Perhaps it wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but loved ones have come into our lives and then left, and the gift of their presence was all too brief. I have seen the phrase “common humanity” so often, but it doesn’t quite capture all that we feel as we experience comings and goings.
Such is the way I feel about the seasons and the creatures I can’t always get to know. They’re acquaintances and imaginary friends, I suppose, but I still want them in my life. I live in a city that boasts some green spaces, and I am close to one such space. Some of the creatures strayed out of Beatrix Potter’s books, like Benjamin Bunny, newly weaned, although he is getting bigger by the day: he shares, with local bees, the clover and weeds in the lawn. Goldfinches coquettishly flock at a feeder in my yard and coyly ask, “Who, me?” Starlings chase them from the feeder, but then squirrels, in turn, take their place, only to be foiled by a slippery feeder cover and a coiled spring that bounces them to the ground. Then the replay button is pressed and the flirty, flighty yellow birds are back.
Then there is the skunk. And the groundhog. I have heard coyotes cry out in the night. Yet all these creatures are part of something larger.
This is why I started this page with that phrase many of us have seen. Due to COVID-19, we are part of something larger, but it’s only the latest reminder in a long list of warnings. Our climate has been telling us for quite some time that it has had quite enough of our shenanigans—odd, that word seems far too playful to use.
The truth is we are in trouble. The beautiful planet we inhabit is finding our habits difficult to live with. Too many creatures are leaving due to the mess. We need to clean our rooms and pick up our toys.
Maybe we should have less screen time and more wondering time, and more wonder about comings and goings of species, the gift of their presence all too brief, before we lose too many.
I hope you will enjoy the beautiful artwork presented by my dear friend Yvette, who gets lost in the details she sees around her, who ponders the intricate systems that connect us to our world. I also hope you will enjoy the story that I have attempted to retell from my daughter’s imagination. Her ability to connect with creatures imaginary and real are my true inspiration for this book.
PS. I will be checking in now and again, so be sure to come back to this site as we share our stories with one another.