Creative Writing Contest: Pandemic Musings – a 3rd place tie

The recent Creative Writing contest as a fundraiser for the local Saugeen Memorial hospital was an inspiration of Luz-Maria Alvarez-Wilson of Southampton.  “I wanted people to not only raise money for the hospital but to also provide an outlet for feelings and emotions during this time of COVID-19,” says Alvarez-Wilson.  “We had excellent submissions and I know it was difficult for our judges to choose winners.”

(L) Luz-Maria Alvarez-Wilson presents a contest gift to Michele Wake

Michele Wake’s ‘Pandemic Musings’ tied for third place.

Pandemic Musings
by Michele Wake

When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11th, 2020, it was like the curtain coming down on the stage in the middle of a play.  At times I was an actor in the middle of my lines; other times I was an audience member just watching it unfold.

Those early days were surreal.  The night an NBA game was cancelled just before it started as a player had tested positive. Just like that the season — and soon all of professional sports—  was suspended.   Is it crazy that it was sports that made me realize that the pandemic was serious?

Every day my husband Harland and I sat, huddled together, watching the news (I had dubbed “the horror “) unfold.  We took on a 30 day yoga challenge which we somehow thought would get us through the pandemic.  We started to walk for hours every day. We’d stop to say hello to anyone we passed, waving at everyone who drove past. It helped us pass the time, it helped our bodies and our minds cope with the strangeness.

During the day, I felt very calm and bright, upbeat and hopeful.  But every night when I tried to sleep my thoughts turned dark. I worried about family, friends and strangers.  I couldn’t imagine what the future would be.  How would this affect my kids, and grandkids?

I could not stop weeping when I heard that John Prine had contracted COVID-19, and I continued to weep after his death was reported.  A great singer/songwriter who chronicled the human condition, a man who survived neck cancer and then lung cancer, continuing to perform, was struck down.  Why was I so affected by his death?  It was a focus for my fear and sorrow.  His songs were so personal, I felt like we were close friends. When I told my youngest son Simon how sad I was about John Prine’s death, he sent me one of his last songs.

When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain’t the afterlife grand?
And then I’m gonna get a cocktail, vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town.
Then as God is my witness, I’m gettin’ back into show business
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syph’litic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ’em with my charm
And I stopped crying.

This pandemic “really sucks,” (to quote Justin Trudeau). People have lost so much: their jobs, loved ones, their lives.  The toll is huge on people who are homeless, live in abusive relationships, have mental health issues, or live alone. While it sucks for me as well, I am acutely aware of my great fortune.  My children are safe and well and employed. I live in a beautiful, uncrowded place in my dream home with my loving husband and sweet puppy dog.  While we frequently joke about trying not to kill each other, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation for isolation.

At first I worried about the effect of isolation on Simon.  He was living alone in Montreal, the epicentre of the Pandemic in Canada, in a studio apartment with his two big dogs.  A mother always worries, but he not only managed, he found love!  He and his girlfriend Alex began sharing isolation in that tiny space and have decided now that they want to spend the rest of their lives together.  Beautiful things also happen during a pandemic!

I have connected with old friends far and wide.  I am participating in a Zoom karate class from my Toronto dojo, and a Yoga class with women I used to run with 10 years ago. I “meet” with my canoe buddies (a group of women I have been canoeing with for 25 years) once a week.  We only met in person maybe 4 times a year. Family dinners are Wednesday nights with my three sons and their families in Montreal (now Nunavut), Michigan and Port Elgin.  I talk to my brother, my aunt, my best friend from childhood more than I have in years.

Occasionally I slip into thinking of lost opportunities and regrets.   I’ve always tried to keep a “life’s too short” outlook, but I thought of it in terms of adventure; travelling to far off places and seeing the world.  Now I see what is really important to me: people.  Why did we not make the effort to see people when we had the chance? How can it have been so long since I’ve seen my family and friends in Connecticut and New York?  My friends in Montreal or even Toronto?

When my son Dylan and his wife Kristen were suddenly working from home full time (in nearby Port Elgin) we offered to help with their two young kids.  They decided, like the responsible adults they are, that it would not be right to bring the world’s best germ spreaders (their kids) in contact with us, the vulnerable population.  I balked at being labelled “the vulnerable population” since we were not quite in that age group, but Dylan pointed out that the risks were in direct correlation with age. Suddenly our roles were reversed and I had to do what he said for my own good.

We met for physically distanced hikes and even a physically distant birthday party.  I was able to spend time every morning reading with the kids over the computer as part of their schoolwork.  On Friday afternoons we baked together, virtually.  With FaceTime, we would get out our ingredients and follow the recipe together, Dylan often in a “meeting” while guiding the kids on his end.  We tried our hands at homemade pop tarts, scones, pretzels, lemon squares, and monkey bread. Our neighbours and friends benefited from our efforts (as did our waistlines).

I am a hugger. I have always felt the need to touch people, to literally connect with others, and I grieve the loss.  When Dylan finally gave us permission to be near him and his family again, we got the greatest hugs ever from our grandkids, especially Austin, who is eight.  When we had a scare and had to isolate again for a few days in August,  Austin and Verity did not even want to see us if we had to be physically distant. When we were cleared, Austin gave us huge hugs, and has done so every time he sees us ever since.  He also knows the therapeutic value of hugging, quite literally the human connection. I told my son that we should distance ourselves from the grandkids when they start school again, but when the time came I didn’t have the heart to do it.  We are taking things one day at a time.  Right now the risks are low, and the benefits are immeasurable.

When Doug Ford first permitted us to gather in small groups outside and socially distant, I struggled with my first invitation to such an event.  I nearly turned it down.  I wasn’t afraid of contracting Covid, but I felt very weird about going out in public, seeing people and being seen.  I spent hours deciding what to wear.  As the group was leaving the event we all agreed that the face to face had done us a world of good.  I planned and attended outdoor activities with great joy all summer. Now I am dreading a winter without these opportunities.

I am focusing my intention on simply being kind.  And by “simply” I mean uncomplicated; it is not easy by any means. I would like to think that kindness comes naturally to me, but so does a scoff or a witty (unkind) quip. I am trying to refrain from judging others.  We just don’t know what other people are going through or what has happened in the moments before the snapshot in time that we have caught them in.  Judging in a moment is like quoting people out of context. I make a conscious effort to express my gratitude at all times. I thank the grocery store cashiers, retail store clerks, bank tellers, and restaurant servers, people who put themselves at risk so that we can have what we want and need.  In the last 8 months, I have not said goodbye to anyone, even strangers on the sidewalk who stop to chat, without telling them how nice it was to talk to them.  And I really mean it.  I wear a mask when I enter a public space, leave room when walking on the sidewalk, keep six feet apart when conversing with others indoors and out.  I will raise, but not lower, my level of caution according to other’s comfort levels.  This is humanity, what it means to be human.  Living in the time of Covid has taught me this.  We care.