By this time last year, I had begun my annual packing for San Miguel ritual. This weeks-long undertaking involves the making of many lists in my travel book: of the clothes I think I will need, work-related supplies, books I plan to read, recipes, kitchen gear, reservations still to be made, tasks to be done before leaving, and so on. Once the lists are made, I pile everything I am thinking of taking on the spare bed, then slowly sift through it in an attempt — often unsuccessful — to eliminate all but the most essential items.
Also by this time last year, we had begun to hear distant stories about a new disease in Wuhan, China; something called the corona virus. At the time, it all seemed pretty remote to my life, and I paid embarrassingly little attention to the news reports.
My partner was more responsible and added a couple of N-95 masks to the otherwise cheery pile of items on the spare bed. Those made it through the screening process, and we carried them with us, although I swore I would never wear such a thing. How attitudes change!
As we headed off to San Miguel, we had no idea how much and how quickly all our lives were about to change. For the first few weeks of our planned nine-week stay, I remained oblivious to the reality of this disease, and resisted – often angrily – any attempts by my partner to discuss it. This was my battery recharging and emotional recovery time, after all; I was not about to interfere with that by worrying about a disease thousands of miles away.
My attempts to keep my head in the sand proved futile by mid-March, and we reluctantly made what was definitely the right decision to come home almost three weeks earlier than we had planned.
A very bad year
Let’s be honest. 2020 has been a pretty lousy year all around, with COVID-19 overshadowing almost everything else.
In Ontario, residents of long-term care facilities were affected immediately and seriously, with high rates of infection and death. Of course, the stage had already been set for this, with an ongoing lack of attention to standards of care. Let’s not forget that it was Doug Ford– now being touted in the media as “Premier Dad” for his handling of the pandemic — whose government cut back on mandatory inspections of LTC homes: in 2018, the number of homes inspected fell to just over half the total of 626 facilities, and in 2019, only nine homes were inspected.
Indigenous communities, already struggling with a serious lack of housing and limited access to potable water, have received inadequate public health supports to assist them manage the impact of the virus.
Rates of intimate partner abuse escalated, as women were forced into lockdowns with abusive partners. Women were also disproportionately affected in the first round of shutdowns, with 1.5 million losing their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. As schools remained closed through the spring, many women found themselves trying to work from home while also parenting and supervising their children’s schooling.
Opioid deaths across the country and around the world skyrocketed as public health attention focused almost entirely on the pandemic.
Longstanding abuses of migrant farm workers worsened during the pandemic. Lacking access to permanent resident status, workers who became ill with the virus often did not seek health care for themselves.
The list could go on, but you get the drift: the impact of the pandemic has been worst for those who were already struggling, and that is not about to change.
An embarrassment of privileges
This year, my travel book is bereft of a single list, and the spare bed is accusingly empty and tidy. Too often, I let myself indulge in self-pity about the trip that will not happen in 2021 or, perhaps, in 2022 either.
I can all too easily feel sorry for myself because I have not enjoyed the work-related travel that I find so stimulating; been able to be with my colleagues in person or to spend the in-person time with my kids and grandkids that I had always taken for granted, and because social encounters have been few, highly choreographed and lacking in spontaneity.
However, as the year comes to a close, I am making time to consider how fortunate I am compared to so many.
I have work I love that pays the bills with some to spare and the technology to make it possible to do that work from home; a spacious and well set-up home office, a backyard that provided a beautiful gathering spot for friends and family through the spring, summer and fall and is now equipped with a patio heater for winter socializing, a partner whose company I enjoy and who seems to enjoy mine, the chance to spend as much time in the kitchen as I could possibly want.
Unlike friends whose kids and grandkids live in other countries, most of ours are within a few minutes of where we live, and those who aren’t are a relatively short drive away.
And, I live in a community with a very low rate of viral spread, thanks in no small measure to our medical officer of health, Kieran Moore.
Sure, there’s plenty to gripe about, as I no doubt will in upcoming posts, but in the meantime, I plan to check out Carsie Blanton’s New Year’s Eve concert, where I hope she will inspire me towards optimism once again with her song “Buck Up:”
“Buck up, baby, come on sic ‘em/Make ‘em laugh if you can’t lick ‘em/Keep on shinin’ like you know you should/Keep on shinin’, that’s the way to get ‘em good.”