Lessons from COVID. There is much time to reflect on our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned from living through a global pandemic. Here’s some of my takeaway from existing in such interesting times.
1. How to not hug my friends. Not something I ever thought I would need to know. As someone who grew up very much not a hugger, I’ve only really thrown myself into the warm and squishy world of hugs in the past few years. I had definitely seen the light on the value, indeed the necessity, of hugs, and would collect them whenever possible. Hugs increase oxytocin which make us feel good, they keep us healthy and connected, they are the foundation of bonding. When I hug my sister, I smell my childhood. When I hug my storeowner friend, I smell her shop. When I hug my friend who loves incense, I smell her home. Hugs create a sense of stillness, a grounding space. Now we have had to learn how to, with love and grace, turn down the hugs we desperately want. I tell people I am hugging them in my heart. I tell them I can’t wait to hug them again. But it is so hard.
2. Sidewalk slalom. Around my neighbourhood, people are really good about crossing the street or moving out of the way when people pass by. It makes social distancing while outside very simple. Though I have taken to walking at ungodly hours to have time alone with my thoughts, when I do go out during the busy times, I’m ready to engage in the newest sport: avoiding coming too close to other walkers, joggers, gadabouts, and daily-constitutioners. Walking is no longer a mindless, in-the-moment joy. I have to look ahead to see who’s coming and try to guess their intentions by their body language. Will he cross the street or should I? If one person needs to walk 300 metres and their pace is 2.7 kilometres per hour, and the other person needs to walk 230 metres at a pace of 3.9 kilometres per hour, when will they collide—and how can they avoid it?
3. Twenty-two ways to tangle a mask. Sometimes it gets stuck in my hair if I accidentally pull a strand through the ear loops and put it into a ponytail. Sometimes it gets mixed up with the arms of my glasses. Sometimes it gets caught on my earrings. Once my mask was dangling from one ear and a wind came by and smacked the butter-side of my mask, the one exposed to the outside world, right into my mouth. Coronavirus: it’s just that easy. I believe in masks, I’ve seen the stats, but I really think some of us (read: me) have gotten a little lackadaisical with this one.
4. Mask fashion is a thing. People have learned how to sew just so they can make their own masks. I have homemade masks from three different local women and they are all beautifully different. Do I wear the one with the cats, the rainbow, or the mushrooms? My outfit is a bit drab, let’s spice it up with a funky mask. If we have to wear these awful things, I think we should at least be enjoying the opportunity to get more creative with mask fashion. What will the next trend be? Tell me your predictions!
5. It is the acquaintances we lose first. On any given pre-COVID day, between work, errands, eating out, local shows and workshops, and coffee catch-ups, I might see five, even ten people I know. I’m talking about the people whose name you know, but address you don’t. Those in-between folks—not friends, not strangers. I never realized how much those connections create my community, and how easy it is to feel lost without them. Without those people, this town could be any town, those stores any stores, those stories anyone’s stories. I miss leaving my home and feeling embraced by a town full of characters I know and love. I miss feeling interwoven into the tapestry of townsfolk.
6. Hospitals are among the safest places to be. When I was staying in Barrie for radiation treatment, going to Royal Victoria Hospital every day, people asked me if I was nervous going to the hospital with the virus. But after going through their protocols: new mask, hand sani every few feet, all the questions, having my temp taken, etc, I felt safer at the hospital than I do at the grocery store. There are many people at the hospitals whose entire job is to make sure vulnerable people do not get sick. No one argues with or harrasses the staff at the hospital, and if they do, there’s a security guard overseeing the interactions. People seem content to do what needs to be done to protect each other and themselves. Maybe people who have to visit a hospital just have different priorities.
7. People’s habits have become my business. Suddenly I know which of my online friends choose not to wear a mask, choose not to vaccinate, want to homeschool their kids. I don’t think I’ve ever been so privy to the intentions and minute actions of people I don’t even see anymore.
8. Humans are incredibly adaptable. If you’d told me a year ago that in 2020 we’d all be wearing face masks and distancing from our friends except the chosen bubbled few, I’d simply think, that’s too much change too quickly. No way that could happen. But as I observe our response, individually and collectively, to the coronavirus, I am again blown away by the sheer adaptability of the human species. We are a survival-driven people and we seem to know, maybe even genetically, that taking care of other members of our clan is beneficial to our survival. Sometimes begrudgingly, but unfailingly, we take care of each other, we get creative, we combat fear with love. It’s a beautiful time to be alive—what a story we get to tell.
9. I touch my face too much. Enough said.
Image: Andrea Koch / Pixabay
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.