By Sally Barnes
I just finished watching Canadians of your generation win two silver medals at the Tokyo Olympics and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
Even in these pandemic days, they have persevered and overcome obstacles we would have once believed impossible.
Imagine working for much of your life for the Olympic moment a half world away without your family there and playing to a mostly empty stadium and with the COVID-19 virus nipping at your ankles.
To me, these athletes are symbolic of the skills, courage and strengths of generations of Canadians who have carved out and preserved this country into the best place to live on the planet.
But I have a heavy heart these days about what we are becoming and the tremendous challenges you face, now and in the years ahead.
At your age, you are busy getting your life on its feet. School. Jobs. Careers. Relationships. Families of your own.
You don’t have the luxury of time as I do to follow the news and consider events in our own community and far beyond. It’s a long time ago but I remember what it’s like to be young and overwhelmed by your own priorities and what the future might hold.
But if this pandemic hasn’t been a wakeup call about what’s happening around us, I can’t imagine what it will take to jolt us all into reality.
And if you think it’s all over, you could be in for a bad surprise. Unless we can get more people vaccinated, we and all other countries face the very real possibility of another costly wave in the late fall or winter. That scares the jeepers out of me and it should you, as well.
In less than two years, our world has been up-ended. Millions are dead. Schools closed. Jobs lost. Careers and businesses ruined. Mental health issues, drug and alcoholic abuse, and suicides surge.
On a personal note, I have to confess that I’ve been a little up-ended myself. I have become a homing pigeon. After all this isolation and not being able to see you and others, I go shopping and count the minutes before I can return home.
Friends confess they are also exhibiting hermit-like symptoms. God knows how crazy we will all be if we have to undergo another shutdown.
In addition, Canadians have amassed huge personal debt and our governments’ spending in the billions will haunt your generation and curtail needed social programs. You will be paying off that debt long after I’m gone.
Sorry about that. I am truly embarrassed that many of the benefits that Grandad and I enjoy today are financed with borrowed money that will be on your tab someday.
Yet another spending spree is underway as our federal government prepares for an unwanted and unnecessary federal election.
I was reminded recently of Robert Kennedy, a dedicated and compassionate politician whose goal to become president of the United States and tackle equity and justice issues affecting millions of Americans was blocked by an assassin’s bullet.
Kennedy, brother of assassinated President John F. Kenndy, recognized his privileged position from a wealthy family and visited some of the poorest black slums to see first-hand the conditions that had been described to him. He was brought to tears by what he saw and said, “I went back home and said to my kids, ’you’ll have to do something about this.’”
He recognized that no matter what he could accomplish as president in his lifetime, the challenge was so huge that it would take following generations to make sure the work continued and the goal eventually accomplished.
That’s where you come in.
I hope you understand that few of the major problems of today can be solved in a few months or even in several years. Don’t believe those who tell you otherwise.
Bringing about change is hard work. All of today’s issues are complex and have their roots far in our past. No number of protests or marches or trying to re-make history or good intentions will solve them.
Only by electing leaders of integrity and exceptional skill and creating a well-informed and an open-minded public will we draft and implement policies required to right wrongs of the past and provide a more equitable and secure future.
Don’t ever tell me you failed to vote because you didn’t know who to vote for. Never before has information been so readily available. Do the homework. Be informed about those who want your support and the privilege of making your laws and spending your hard-earned money.
Right now, our first priority has to be bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control before more lives are lost and more social and financial costs pile up.
The statistics speak for themselves. It is now a disease of the unvaccinated and in the U.S. only about half of the population has been vaccinated. In Canada, we have been more successful but we have a long way to go before we turn this around.
It’s important to remember that almost every one of those who have recently died from the virus could not or would not get vaccinated.
Vaccinations are not new. All of you have received multiple vaccinations since your birth. Vaccines are why such diseases as polio, diphtheria, HIV, measles, tuberculosis, the flu, and many others that afflicted earlier generations are rare or nonexistent today.
So why the high vaccination hesitancy rate among young people today? I remember lining up at school for my polio shot. We wanted to be protected from that terrible disease that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, including people I knew.
You never met my maternal grandmother—and neither did I. She lived in Deseronto and was one of the thousands who died in 1918 from the last big pandemic, known as the Spanish flu. There were few drugs to help pandemic victims in those days and my mother and aunt became little orphans left to the mercy of others to care for them.
That, of course, was all in the days before social media and unscrupulous politicians spreading lies and fears, twisting facts and creating “anti-vax lore.”
Today’s political leaders like former-President Donald Trump and others much closer to home will take advantage of any issue for their own selfish political advantage—even if it costs the lives and livelihoods of so many. A pox on all their houses for the evil that they do against the most vulnerable and naïve among us.
Our governments have made many mistakes in handling to the COVID-19 crisis. Hopefully we have learned from those errors and will be better prepared for when the next virus comes along. And health experts agree that there will be more during your lifetime.
We know that “shaming and blaming” won’t work with your age group—you are too smart and skeptical for that—but we also know we have to do a better job of informing the public.
Vaccination is the only effective weapon we have to beat this pandemic and the more lethal variants.
Billions of people around the world go unvaccinated because they can’t afford or don’t have access to the life-saving vaccine.
Here we are sitting on a pile of vaccine and using free coffee and donuts and lotteries to beg people to get the shot.
Get your shots and take your friends with you.
One day far in the future the subject will come up about the great pandemic of 2020-21 and you can lean back in your rocking chair and proudly tell your grandkids that you got vaccinated and protected yourself and those around you, including your grumpy old grandparents, who love you very much.
There are more issues I’d like to get off my chest but I’ll wait until I see you.
You’ve been warned!
Much love, “G”
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s Hugh Mackenzie and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com
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