Our writing group had an assignment recently. It was to imagine the year is 2030 and that you are telling someone about life during 2020.
I found it really therapeutic and it was interesting to hear different people’s perceptions and what has stuck out for them. Despite it being only the first six months, so much has happened.
It may be hard to imagine but there was a time when people gathered freely in groups, without masks, without fear. We enjoyed concerts, and sporting events, conferences and museums, without worrying we may contract a virus. We rarely wore masks unless we were at the hospital, visiting someone in ICU or on the cancer ward. And we hugged. People showed affection with touch and lots of hugs.
But the world was also ugly. Politics, class, colour and financial worth divided us. People used social media to judge, levelling each other with 120 characters or often much less. Addiction, homelessness and poverty were pervasive, yet no one wanted to do anything about it. Mental health still had a stigma. Busyness equalled success. Production at work was paramount, at any cost. Some children were given everything; others nothing. The disparity between rich and poor was wide.
And then a virus our medical community had never seen before, began to kill people in China. China was slow to understand the severity of this virus but eventually it spread through most parts of the world. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.
In Canada, we rushed to bring Canadians home from other countries. Many flights were arranged and people were told to ‘come home’ if they were abroad. Those that came home had to ‘self-isolate’ for 2 weeks. Canada and the US eventually closed the border, only allowing essential cargo to get through.
Many people died around the world, including here in Canada. Health care workers became the heroes of our time. People living in long term care, our elderly, died in massive numbers and the overcrowding, underfunding and overworked staff were laid to bare when Canada’s military was called in to help. A report revealed the deplorable conditions of some of these homes. We were horrified by what we heard but some were not surprised.
People panicked and toilet paper became something of a sought-after commodity as people hoarded and worried. Our country, and our province of Ontario, declared a state of emergency and a quarantined lockdown was called, excluding essential workers like health care workers, grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, gas station attendants, truck and delivery drivers and generally people who provide essential goods and services. People lost their livelihoods.
The government came up with a number of ways to get money to people, presumably so the economy could keep churning. Many businesses closed. Many people got laid off and had no work. Many people had to work from home for the first time, using online video conferencing. This magnified the disparity of essential but unequal access to broadband services. Many people in remote and rural areas could not access the internet to work. This and many other disparities came to light. The large communications companies like Bell and Rogers didn’t charge extra for the extensive internet use, but that only lasted a few months.
Wearing a mask began to be encouraged as a way to stop the spread of the virus. Some argued this was a plot by the government and others adhered to this without reservation, wanting to protect themselves, people they loved that were vulnerable (immune compromised) and others.
Many people began to go back to basics: baking at home, spending more time with their children, as the schools were closed too. Many people had to home school their children and work from a home office. People got outside more and because they had to spend so much time together, they got to know each other all over again. They had tough conversations. People were scared but hopeful.
Personally, I was scared and fearful. Every uncomfortable feeling or issue that I was too busy to address in my own life came up. I had panic attacks, cried a lot, read a lot, wrote a lot but took a long hard look at the things like grief that I hadn’t addressed. It was hard but necessary work.
Racial tensions that had been brewing for a very long time in America, hit a breaking point. When yet another unarmed black man was killed at the hands of a US police officer, people of colour had had enough. As white people around the world watched the protests, many of us awakened to the systemic racism that still existed, not just in America, but around the world. There were protests and because the world was still in a temporary pause because of the virus, many more white people became aware. It made many white people like me, take a closer look at their own engrained racist tendencies and at the system that privileged the white and kept Black Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC)oppressed and unequal. Many white people began educating themselves, had conversations and made efforts to stop the racism in the United States but also to understand colonialism and the oppression of BIPOC here in Canada that still existed. Governments had to take action because too many people became aware and it was too big to ignore any longer.
Just when I thought I had dealt with everything, I had to take a long look at my own ignorance. I had no one of colour in my own social circle. Why not? There were very few people of colour in my own town. Why not? I’d heard racist jokes from relatives in the past but didn’t say anything. Why not?
Many of us went inward in search of answers. Being vulnerable is the only way forward. I began to have conversations with friends and neighbours about racism; REAL conversations fuelled by the things I was learning.
Here’s what I hope will come next.
Countries began to work together. Political parties also, worked together. There were still angry, vile people in the world but they were of the minority and it became socially unacceptable. People began to see we needed systemic changes and they had to happen in order to move the economy forward, and out of the pandemic slump.
People started to get a living wage, the disparity needle began to move. The education system talked about residential schools and colonialism and the oppression of indigenous Canadians and racism directed at races other than whites, in all grades. Diversity training began to take on a whole new meaning in the workplace and new policies became law. But it was a lot of work. There were a lot of awkward and terse conversations but people were courageous enough to have them.
Real change began to happen; a revolution of sorts. It didn’t happen right away but incremental changes began to emerge because people embraced love instead of hate. We talked about our differences and listened and learned and realized we had much more in common.
There’s so much more I hope for humanity.
We get to write our own story. How will you show up?