“This is like something you only read about and saw in old black and white pictures.”
That was what my oldest son said to me the other day, after the shutdown was made official, with most businesses being told to close and people told to not congregate anymore, to stay home and, when they’re out, to keep a safe distance from others. And it is quite incredible, surreal, the crisis we are all in.
It seems bizarre to say, “we are all in,” because it is rarely true that everyone, literally everyone in this community, everyone on this planet, is in the same predicament. But here we are.
We have seen many human crises over the years – but they are almost always somewhere else. We, Canadians, have seen them from our couches, on our phones. Wars, starvation, mass shootings – even global warming doesn’t seem real regardless of the science because, well, “it hasn’t affected me.”
Normally, when I’ve looked out my window, I’ve walked down the street, I’ve driven along the highway … I saw order. I saw beauty. I saw life, going on just fine, even when I knew, I absolutely knew, that serious shit was going down in most parts of the world. Now, I still see those things but I also see empty streets and parks, closed shops. And worried faces.
At first, it made me very sad. Not for myself but for my partner, my friends, and my children, who I had hoped would never have to live through a time like this. Living in Canada, on the North Coast to boot, the chances of that were pretty good.
But, while it is sad and I wish this crisis hadn’t happened and that it would all go away, I also get a sense that, as a nation, we were due. Relatively speaking, mainstream Canada has not seen a lot of misery. Even in the world wars, it was over there; not a shot was fired, not a bomb dropped, on our soil. “Oh, that’s terrible,” we’ve said, time and time again, about the horrible things that go on in other parts of the world, before turning back to our phones to find out that Justin Bieber is acting like a 20-year-old with a shitload of money or that the Leafs are imploding again.
So, we were due.
It was our turn – and even then, it isn’t our turn exclusively. We’ve just found ourselves at the same party, for once. The poor, the starving, the war-torn? This is their Tuesday. To feel sorry for ourselves would be an insult to the majority of the world that suffers and endures.
Of course, we haven’t just been observers to suffering outside of our borders. Canada’s First Nations people continue to live in abhorrent conditions on reserves and many in urban areas are poor or homeless and likely to die much earlier than their non-First Nations counterparts. I have been lucky. As a kid, I was there, one of them, but I am now pretty comfortable, holding a membership in the middle class and the blinders that come with it.
Do I care about the state of my people? Of the poor, in general? Yes, but not as much as I should. I can do more. And I will. Because I have been given a taste of what it is like to live in uncertainty, in distrust, in fear … like the marginalized do every day. But, unlike the marginalized at this moment, I have a big, warm house, a full fridge, a big screen TV, and money in my pocket. My “suffering” is to sit at home and watch TV or write.
This isn’t the end. We’ll get through this. I just hope that, when we do, after this taste of crisis, fear, and helplessness, we all gain a better sense of community, our own and the world community.
Or will we be like Homer Simpson, in the episode where he believes he has one day to live? When he awakens the next day and realizes he is not going to die, he jumps to his feet and proclaims, “From this day forward, I plan to live life to the fullest!”
But, in the next scene, with the credits rolling, we see Homer sitting on his couch, eating potato chips and scratching his ass as he watches bowling on TV.