Monday Morning Musings

Posted on March 30, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with 2 comments

See you in August, Kangiqsujuaq.

 

Where is the center of the universe?

Good question.

The earth makes up an infinitesimally small portion of the universe, but it is our world.

And where is the center of our world?

Growing up in Canada, many of us have felt that North America, and the United States in particular, is the straw that stirs the drink. These days, I’m not so sure. My six-month stint in India three years ago was very revealing. I read the Hindu Times every day to try and get a feel for what was going on in that part of the world. On November 8, 2016, the rupee was demonetized in India causing chaos in the country. Twenty-four hours later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. His election shocked a lot of people. It was page 12 news in the Hindu Times.

The world is in turmoil these days, unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime. The outbreak of Covid-19 has brought the planet to a virtual standstill. Rich and poor, young and old, are being affected in some way. As usual, the poor will be disproportionately affected.
One would like to think that we’re all in this together but in some countries, rugged individualism still reigns supreme. Individual rights trump those of the common good. The results could be disastrous.

So now, I will unabashedly wave the Canadian flag. We have never been considered the center of the universe. Most often, we are an afterthought to our neighbors to the south. These days, that’s quite alright, thank you very much.
Like everyone else, I am watching the news closely to see how other countries are responding to the pandemic. Many have been able to “flatten the curve” by heeding the advice of the authorities.

I’m not going to suggest that Canada is perfect. Far from it. We have problems and divisions like everywhere else. We have huge disparities between the rich and the poor. Our treatment of indigenous people is still a cause for concern… and embarrassment. Serious differences between the Federal government and the provinces is a source for worry. Our friends in Alberta are getting crushed with plummeting oil prices and Covid-19. This affects all of us, so it behooves us not to be too gleeful about low gas prices. Diminishing revenues from the oil patch affect all of Canada. Green energy may come sooner than we think.

On balance, it appears that Canada is tackling the pandemic as well as any country, but this does not mean we can afford to be smug. We are all now a part of Team Canada and must rally around our epidemiologists, medical experts, front line health care workers and, dare I say it, our politicians. While a few of our elected officials continue to play politics at this most extraordinary time, it is a pleasant surprise to see provincial and territorial leaders along with the Federal Government, all putting their collective shoulders to the wheel. We are all in this together. We must be in this together.

Many of us long in the tooth remember vividly the unity our country experienced in 1972 when our hockey team defeated the Russians. I walked through the town and the campus of St.F.X. University after Paul Henderson’s electrifying goal, watching hundreds and hundreds of people waving Canadian flags and singing “Oh Canada”.

We are a big diverse country. There is alienation, prejudice, racial bias and all sorts of other problems. This is a time to put our divisiveness aside, grab the oars, and continue to pull hard together. There are many tough days ahead, but a crisis of this magnitude may have a very decided upside in terms of bringing us together.

The center of the universe, by the way, is not located in any part of the world. It rests inside of you.

I will steadfastly observe the “cone of silence” for the next two weeks. You won’t see me, but you’ll hear from me. Only a collapse of the internet will shut me up!

Please be safe.

P.S. Made it back to Halifax last night.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on March 26, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

See you in August, Kangiqsujuaq

 

And, just like that, it ended.

Since our school closed a week and a half ago, I have been in turmoil trying to decide what to do. With school not set to reopen until early May, I had the option of heading home for the next five weeks and to return in May. But with the pandemic and all the new measures being imposed by provinces, territories and the Federal government, I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to come back in May. My biggest fear is that schools would reopen and that my students wouldn’t have a teacher for the balance of the school year. School finishes at the end of May up here.

After a great deal of soul searching and collaboration with family and friends, I decided this past Monday that I would take my chances and go home… if I could indeed get home.

While there are no cases of coronavirus in our community as of this writing, this does not mean that we are immune. I started weighing the health risks of staying or leaving. If I stayed and there was an outbreak, this would be very problematic and scary. The underservicing in the north is all professions is well documented, none more so that in health care. While our community is blessed with a wonderful medical clinic staffed by competent nurses, they wouldn’t be able to manage a serious situation like this. The nearest hospital is more than an hour away by plane and with weather, there is never a guarantee of getting out.

I am well aware that there are risks in travelling these days. For me to get home will require three different flights with three different airlines. The planes up north are small so social distancing is not possible. I will be spending time in airports with people arriving home from various parts of the world.

At the end of the day, I decided, somewhat selfishly, that if I was going to get sick, I’d rather be sick at home where I have access to world class health care in my own town.

A friend who spent many years in the north gave me additional insights. The people most vulnerable to the virus are seniors and nowhere are seniors more revered than in indigenous communities. Many of us southerners who will be leaving will ease the strain on the health care system should an outbreak occur.

Shortly after notifying my principal that I planned to leave, an announcement was made that schools would remain closed for the balance of the school year. Once again, selfishly, I was relieved that the decision to leave had been made for me and that my students wouldn’t be left in the lurch had I not been able to come back in May.

I’m anticipating that getting home won’t be easy but that is to be expected. With the new rules in place in Nova Scotia, I will self- isolate for 14 days upon my return.

If I ever write my autobiography, this will be one of the craziest chapters in my life. I’m sure it will be for many others as well. It’s all a giant blur. I feel certain that I am not the only one who wakes up everyday wondering if this is all real.

It feels like a tornado is ripping the planet apart and that we’ll only be able to assess the damage and pick up the pieces when it eventually stops. The loss of life and employment will be high. The financial repercussions will be felt for a very long time. It would appear that Mother Nature has hit the reset button.

From the gazillion Facebook posts, it would appear that many people have discovered the joys of cooking a home cooked meal; of reading a book; of playing games; of having time to relax. With the prospects of a new baby boom in December (!) it is quite possible that people have also rediscovered “The Joy of Sex.” I see you old timers nodding and grinning. This book was published back in the 1970s. The author was Dr.Alex Comfort. I’m not making this up.

We will pick up the pieces when the contagion ends but we’ll have to bring our “A Game”. We’ve actually started by the many acts of generosity and kindness being shown during these exceedingly difficult times.

I remember vividly when the Harlem All Stars, an off shoot of the Harlem Globetrotters, came to Antigonish in the 1960s. When the exhibition ended, the captain of the team addressed the crowd. He thanked them for coming and closed with this. “Please drive home carefully for the life you save may be mine.”

Today, we are being asked to do the same thing. We are being asked to be responsible and to do the right thing. By your selfless acts, you may save the life of a parent, grandparent, or friend.

The road ahead is not going to be easy, but humans have demonstrated resilience before and they will do so again.

Stay safe.

P.S. I am planning to come back to Kangiqsujuaq for a second year. Unfinished business.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on March 23, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

Enrica Stucchi. Bergamo, Italy. A Camino friend.

 

On May 14, 2019, I was walking on the Camino in Spain ,somewhere between Calzadilla de la Cueza and El Burgo Ranero. I had already walked 10 kilometres by 7:30 a.m. My plan was to stop and have breakfast. I spotted a couple of people ahead of me who were walking at quite a clip. I am a pretty fast walker myself and so I decided to join them for a few minutes. Two minutes turned into two hours. Soren, the fittest 65 year- old man I ever met, was from Denmark and his walking partner was Enrica, a 28 year- old woman from Bergamo, Italy. I would meet Enrica several days later as she performed one of the many works of mercy on the Camino, helping me patch up my blisters.

When I got back home, I interviewed Enrica for my Camino book and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

I had never heard of Bergamo, Italy before. Today, it is the hardest hit city in the world with a medical system nearly collapsing under the weight of the Covid-19 epidemic. As of this writing, over 2,550 people have died in the Lombardy region of Italy.

Enrica Stucchi is a very bright, engaging woman. Her educational background is teaching languages, but her passion is art, writing, dancing and singing. At the time I met her, she was trying to decide where the road of life would take her next.

What a difference a few months makes. She is back in Bergamo, living with her family as the coronavirus cascades around the globe.

Like many people, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the coronavirus initially. Enrica was one of the first people to alert me as to what was happening in Italy. From these early discussions, I started to pay very close attention. Today we are in a brave and uncertain new world of a global pandemic.

An older relative of Enrica’s died a few weeks ago. He died at home. He was quite ill, and under normal circumstances would have ended up in the hospital. But these are not normal times. When the government banned visitors from visiting the sick in hospitals, many families chose to keep their loved one’s home.

Enrica admits that the initial news out of China was viewed by many with skepticism but soon it became all too real.
In recent weeks as things have worsened, Enrica’s life is spent almost entirely indoors. Citizens are not allowed to leave their home unless they have a valid reason (groceries, medicine). The government is strictly enforcing these measures and people are being fined for non-compliance. The fear level in the city is palpable.

I asked her if Italy’s medical system was prepared for an epidemic. Some people in Canada have suggested that an outbreak like Italy’s could never happen here because of our world class, universal health care system. Enrica told me that the current crisis can be traced back to government cutbacks to health.

The situation in Bergamo is dire. Enrica has friends who work in the health care field. They are being forced to make life and death decisions every day. She knows a doctor who has worked 14 days straight under incredible pressure. One fears for the health of the people on the front lines.

When asked if the crisis was nearing its peak in Italy she said that most experts think that this won’t happen for another month, but nobody knows for certain.

Enrica remains calm in the middle of the storm. Like many of us she watches in amazement and shock as people horde items like toilet paper. More horrifying is that in some parts of the world, people are buying more guns.

Her advice to Canadians who are in the early innings of this ball game: “Don’t underestimate this virus. If you take precautions and look after yourself, you are protecting those who are most vulnerable. If you don’t spread the virus, less people will die.”

One thing that being quarantined has taught Enrica is to recalibrate what is important in life.

When I walked the Camino, I interviewed people from all over the world. I suspect that if I were conducting interviews after the fallout from the pandemic, people would be viewing the world in a different light.

Isolation may be just what we need to bring us all closer together.

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