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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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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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on March 16, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

Dallas, Texas.The exact spot where JFK was assassinated.

(Peter MacDonald photograph)

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the Spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens

Oh, what a difference 30 days makes.

A month ago, the world was spinning merrily on its axis. Stock markets were at record highs. We were nicely making our way through winter.

The days were starting to get longer and many of us were licking our chops thinking about a vacation somewhere warm.

Not many of us had heard of Wuhan, China, population 12 million.

A seminal event is defined as some discovery or event that strongly influences what comes after.

In my lifetime, I can easily identify three events that fit this description: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963); Man landing on the moon (July 20, 1969; The September 11th. attacks in the United States (September 11, 2001).

I can now add the outbreak of coronavirus to my list.

Those of you my age don’t need a lot of schooling on JFK’s death or the lunar landing. These events defined our era in many ways. The September 11th attacks will undoubtably be a seminal event for our children.

Future generations might describe the events of the past four weeks as an “epoch of incredulity”. It is hard to believe that the planet has almost ground to a halt as Covid-19 continues its rampage. The wheels of capitalism seemed to fall off in a matter of days providing some of the largest single day losses in the history of the stock market. Professional sports teams put their seasons on hold and the number of major events being cancelled skyrocketed. Never in recent history have we witnessed this unparalleled effort to curtail the spread of a virus.
Historians will point out that this is really nothing new. Plagues and pestilence have rained down on mankind for centuries. The big difference is that now, just about everyone on the planet has access to instant information.

Our school is closed today and will remain this way at least for a few weeks. I am relieved in a way as there is already a fairly nasty flu and cold going on in the school. It’s hard to shake when all you students are hacking and sneezing in a confined space. This hiatus will give us all a chance to get well.

It seems to me that Mother Nature has decided unilaterally to hit the reset button. While no one wants a pandemic, maybe this is an opportunity for people to reconnect without the benefit (?) of Facebook , Twitter or Instagram. Maybe isolation and staying home from work will give us more real face time with friends and family. Maybe we’ll rediscover family meals, books and board games. I think Mother Nature is sending a powerful message.

Make no mistake. This too shall pass, and the wheels of business and industry will gear up again. I expect that if we are truly in a recession, the clarion call of commercialism and consumerism will rise from the ashes.

Be good to yourself and those around you. A lot of people are going to need a lot of help. Be kind.

Have a great week.

P.S. Last Friday, I walked up to the airport after school to see if any of my grocery boxes from the south had arrived. A colleague, who had one of the school trucks, was at the airport. She messaged me to say that my boxes had not arrived. I was already halfway to the airport and decided to keep going. When I got there, the terminal was empty as the evening flight to Salluit had just left. I hung around and chatted with the workers as I often do. Just as I was about to leave, one of them came over and said that one of my boxes indeed had arrived. I didn’t have transport but realized that one of the community transit buses was outside. I asked the driver if she could take me home with my box. When I picked it up, I nearly got a hernia. It felt like it weighed 100 kilograms. I instantly knew its contents. I struggled to carry it outside. I was dropped off at my apartment.

I will be calling the Vatican when it reopens to report a miracle. I will tell them that one of three grocery boxes arrived from down south. The one that showed up contained a two- week supply of milk and red wine!

P.P.S. Speaking of the “epoch (age) of incredulity, I saw a picture of a lineup at our local Shopper’s Drug Mart back home – the great unwashed mass lining up for toilet paper. I mistakenly thought that this was a respiratory illness. I guess I better get with it so that people won’t accuse me of being an arsehole!

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