Keeping despair at bay (part eight)

Early morning has always been my favourite time of day. The silence and calm offer such hope and possibility for the day ahead, whether in the dark of winter or the early morning light of the rest of the year.

My habit for as long as I can remember has been to get up by 5 and do a couple of hours of work before the day’s interruptions begin. After that, how my morning goes depends on a lot of different factors. If I am in an exercise phase, I might take a break around 7:30 or so to go for a walk or (once upon a time) head to the gym. If we are having friends for dinner, I might do some cooking. It might be a day to start a load of laundry so it can get out on the line as soon as the sun is up. Then, I can join the real workday.

What has always mattered to me the most about that time is the alone-ness of it, even if the house is filled with other people or I am in a hotel somewhere or the rest of the day is packed with interruptions.

Since the pandemic, though, I have found it harder and harder to spring from bed at 5 o’clock. It’s not for a lack of work and other activities to fill my time: I have a daily to-do list that I seldom get through. It’s the ennui of living in such a strange and constrained time, I think, a sort of sense that nothing really matters all that much, coupled with the sameness of every day.

As Gary Gulman wraps up “The Great Depresh,” in a resigned, shoulder-shrugging tone:

“Life. It’s every day.”  

It sure is, Gary, and those words could well have been written to describe life in a pandemic. (You owe it to yourself to watch this show, if you haven’t already.)

Up and at ‘em

Last Saturday, I woke up shortly after 4, unusually full of energy and, dare I say, enthusiasm. I finished the newest Mary Russell novel by Laurie King (if you haven’t read these books, in which Mary Russell is a feminist companion and equal to Sherlock Holmes, you should check out the series of 14 books), but it was still very early.

So, in a break with my habit of the past 10 months, I got up, did some work in the kitchen and headed out the door. I got to the grocery store as it opened its doors to “senior” shoppers at 7 am, did my shopping in the company of just two other early birds and emerged as the pre-dawn light was starting to show on the eastern horizon.

Sounds of silence

It was a mild morning with not a hint of a breeze and I was dressed warmly, so I decided to go to Lemoine Point conservation area for a solo walk.

I walked the main trail from one end of the park to the other and back again, encountering only the occasional other rambler, hordes of black and grey squirrels hoping I had treats for them, and one owl hunting for its breakfast. I watched the sun come up ahead of me as I walked and let my mind wander wherever it wanted to.

There were no groups of people, no dogs and no kids – all of whom I am happy to share the space with during the day, but the silence in their absence was wonderful.

I walked for an hour and returned home feeling fully restored and ready for whatever the day and week had in store for me.

Stay at home!

Despite my optimism on Saturday morning, despair landed hard, as I am sure it did for most others, with Doug Ford’s announcement of a stay at home order on Tuesday. It’s not that I don’t take the pandemic seriously, because I do. It’s not the staying home itself; while I would enjoy more opportunities to be out and about and, especially, to see people, we are getting pretty used to hunkering down at home.

It’s the resentment that this is the wrong thing and that it is coming too late. It’s the hypocrisy of politicians and senior health care professionals wagging their fingers at all of us about how we need to follow the rules while some of them swan off to visit family, take care of property or vacation outside Canada. It’s the bullying tone of Ford’s voice when he says: “Stay. Home. Stay home. Restez a la maison.”

It’s the stupidity, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, of subjecting the entire province to the same rules when, in my case, I live in a community where the current rate of new infections is a low 12.2/100,000 and there are only 37 active cases.

It’s the fact that the new rules are not easy to understand, despite Ford’s insistence to the contrary. As my partner commented when we returned from picking up take-out Mexican food (complete with a kit for assembling margaritas) for his birthday dinner last night, that trip could hardly be considered essential, yet the restaurant is allowed to be open and, presumably, customers are permitted to pick up their orders.

We can only go out of our homes if it is essential, but we are also allowed to gather outside in groups of up to five people. Does this mean we can meet up with a couple of friends in the park if the purpose of our gathering is to exercise but not if it is just to spend some time together? Can we invite two or three friends into our backyard to sit under our patio heater for a cocktail? Perhaps only if they have hiked to our house and need a short break before hiking home.

And, it’s anger that these measures might not be necessary if governments had done the right things sooner. Right things like not cancelling mandatory annual inspections of nursing homes, not ending paid sick days, finding creative and safe ways to keep kids in classrooms and investing in proper testing and contact tracing early in the pandemic, to mention just a few.

One of the problems with rules that are unclear, inconsistent or don’t make sense is that some people won’t follow them.

I willingly don a mask when I go out and have accepted the no travel guidelines, forfeited the time I long for with family and friends and almost forgotten what it is like to eat in a restaurant or go to a movie; all of which I believe are important components of controlling the spread of COVID-19.

And, I will follow the new rules but, honestly, more out of fear of getting caught if I don’t than because I think it will make a jot of difference in bringing the pandemic under control.

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