Silver Linings Playbook: Covid-19 Edition, Part 2

[4-minute read] The ice is gone, and so are the crowds. Rideau Canal, Ottawa.

In part 2 of the Playbook, friends of, we walk the sunniest available sides of the streets of Ottawa. The number one bit of brightness is that WE’RE NOT NEW YORK. By good luck, and perhaps by a certain level of good Canadian management and prudence, we’re still only in the hundreds of cases in my city, with fewer than 10 deaths. But still, Covid-19 looms darkly over Ottawa, over everywhere that people have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Science saith unto all the congregations…¹

But there are silver linings ANYWAY. As I concluded in Part 1 of this series, they all seem to have something to do with some combination of Time, Opportunity and the Transformation of our personal and societal circumstances. What do they look like in your neighbourhood, town or city?

Here’s what my neighbour Big Sam had to say: “In a pandemic, country people still have the advantages of rural living — fresh air, woods and fields to walk in, and it’s easy to avoid people. And the disadvantages are mainly gone, because now nobody has anywhere to go or much to do. Here in town, it’s the opposite: we have all the disadvantages (nature deficits, people all over the place), and none of the city advantages like, y’know, entertainment, large gatherings and art and culture and…Big Sam has chronic tongue-in-cheek syndrome, but there’s some wry truth there. But what I’m talking about is making the best of this shutdown situation, even when densification kinda sucks! Here’s what’s silver on a cloudy Ottawa afternoon:

  • LOCAL HEROES are getting celebrated on-line. Our local chief medical officer – Dr. Vera Etches – is reputed locally to have “a will of steel” and is widely admired, as are all the health workers. (Nationally and provincially, most of Canada’s chief health officers are women, as they are municipally in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.) Suddenly the love that usually goes to highly paid hockey stars from everywhere except Ottawa is being re-directed to truck drivers, shelf stockers, grocery baggers and other jobs that are low-wage but more essential than chasing pucks. Perspectives change.
  • SINGING FROM BALCONIES? Surely there must be parts of Ottawa, more dense than my neighbourhood, where people sing and perform with each other at a distance, à l’Italienne? (Hmm, okay, maybe not. This is Ottawa.)
  • BUT THERE’S BEAUTY ALL OVER THE PLACE. Kid-painted rainbows, strategically placed teddy bears, and all kinds of encouragement are to be found in street-facing windows. “You got this!” and “Tous dans le même bâteau” and “Wash! Wash! Wash!” and these two splendidly childish jokes to follow:

Silver Linings Playbook: Covid-19 Edition, Part 1

It’s a cliche for a reason. [6-minute read]

(And HEY FOLKS: I updated my WordPressing, and just noticed that you might have missed page 2, a button you need to punch just below the “share” notice. Not too obvious, sorry.)

This pandemic is a bloody gigantic, forebodingly black cloud that has blotted out the the sun of Everyday Life. (Yet there’s no stopping the literal sun.) Buckets of rain. Hailstones like shot-puts. Figurative lightning strikes, mudslides and wildfires – just ask doctors in New York City, Wuhan, northern Italy, and too many other outbreak spots to name. And still I maintain, and human nature appears to insist, that there are bright spots that pierce the gloom, linings of silver behind the darkest of clouds, just as my mother always said.

I’m looking for them. Lots of us are, and we can train ourselves to see positives where they exist. This is not to suggest that we ignore suffering, nor to shelter in a comfortable place and whine about inconvenience, drowning our petty sorrows in self-absorption, but also not to be blind to the light that every darkness hides. You’ve seen what folks are doing in crisis. It’s widespread, it’s constant, and often it really isn’t that hard: you support your local foodbank, he shops responsibly, maybe she’s making some extra phone calls to family, friends, neighbours, WHATEVER — but I hope you’ll join me in Finding Goodness Where We Can.

Today, I’m reporting on fortunate consequences within the cozy confines of my Ottawa home, which I share with DancerGirl and our not-long-for-teenager-dom son, The Lanky One. So:

Within These Four Walls + Our Fully Functioning Roof + Sump-Pump. Hard Times Have Been Good to Find — Let Me Count the Ways!

  • INTROVERTS for the WIN! My bride laments the lack of people, and I quietly thank my lucky stars. I don’t know if I’m storing up Loner Energy or not, but I do enjoy the lack of appointments and obligations, really, to an absurd degree. Maybe this will pass, but it’s fun for now.
  • Hang-time with the Lanky One has been almost completely good. Cabin-fever hits him hard (I hear girlfriend rumours occasionally), but he’s funny, philosophical, and the all-in-this-together vibe is working for him. (Or on him.) It’s not as sudden as it sometimes feels, but our Ornery Teen is a rather congenial housemate. Silver! Gold!

Howdy, Are You Goofin’ on Lateness? * (Hey, Baby!)

The Buddha is supposed to have said that we should think of material existence as a lamp, a cataract, a star in space / an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble / a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning. Baha’u’llah wrote, The world is like the vapor in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion. All is illusion. It’s just a show, fairly useless and finally hollow. That being the case, of what importance is time, for heaven’s sake? (Or my own?) Another fantasy, ridiculous, so what could be the importance of phrases like “two weeks late” or “last month’s news” or “so 2015!”?

Listen, some of what I say could have been done in “January” – an invented construct, as is that of a “week” (see Genesis, Chapter 1) – or even in the earlier weeks of “Febyooary” – not only an arbitrary construct, but also tagged with an unpronounceable label – well, what could the matter be? In the view of the time-bound, the next piece I’ll post was started, oh, 13 days ago – whatever a day is! And some will argue that it should have been out within a “day” or two of the start of the arbitrary, named-after-a-pope-nobody-remembers-or-wants-to, Gregorian Year that apparently we’re calling “2016”. Silly, I know, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Lots of people pay attention to time, timeliness, days and hours, time out of mind. Sometimes I even fall into the trap myself. Though not recently.

But there is more to come.

* Extra points to those who read down to here, and ice cream if you actually got the R.E.M. reference. (In states and provinces where the ice cream provision is void by law, click here, but only if you understood my goofy title.)

The Earth is Bipolar (but we all have to live here)

‘Twas the night before Valentine’s, and most guys were frantic,
It’s so hard to recall how to be faux romantic…

VD is a harsh little pocket of cynicism for me, despite having a smart and attractive date every year. Thanks for allowing that wee poetic vent, but that’s SO not what I want to talk about. I’m actually thinking about IDEALS. Most of us seem to agree on what they are: that the whole world could know the peace that we enjoy; that our children might inherit a cleaner, flourishing natural environment; that the whole human species might realize its inner sister-and-brotherhood; that kindness rule, that all are befriended and feel useful, and God bless all the nations…

As humanity gropes erratically toward these sorts of goals – and we are – the confusion can be overwhelming. I’ve learned to distinguish, though it’s rarely crystal clear, two simultaneous processes at work in the world. One is destructive, and appears designed to undermine any hope we might have of achieving our social ideals. The other, sometimes harder to see because Fox News doesn’t report it, is a process that builds resolutely toward our collective dreams. I’ve run across two news stories that perfectly illustrate these processes. The world is bipolar, in more ways than one.

First is an astoundingly scary set of numbers, recounted in an article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail by Lawrence Martin, about the level of defence spending by the American government. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so dreadful. To a man with a hammer, it is said, every problem looks like a nail. To a fear-obsessed nation with trillions invested in the machinery of war, international problems appear solvable by force. (Shock and Awe. Remember? Wow.) The piece isn’t linkable for free, so a brief excerpt follows:

“Overwhelming” won’t do. “Staggering” doesn’t quite cut it. The United States now spends more [$622 billion annually, doubled in the Bush II years] on military might than all the other countries put together. Its nearest rivals, Russia and China, spend less than $100-billion each. Put them on a racetrack with the Americans and you get the picture: The Russians and the Chinese are lapped by the guys in stars and stripes more than six times over.

That still isn’t enough, it seems. When you’re equipped with the greatest arsenal ever known and you’re taken down by a bunch of goat herders with pen-knives, you have to forever prove your manhood — even if the new tonnage in armour is barely relevant to the fight. Of course, it wasn’t lack of U.S. military power that resulted in the 9/11 calamity. It was lack of intelligence. Nevertheless, the terror hit has given the green light to the runaway military industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned about. Boeing needs the money…

This week’s sign that hopefulness is possible is not (surprise!) such a loud, vulgar and pricey proposition. It’s a bit of environmental optimism that arises from an amazing development in tiny, poor Niger. Along with Kenyan 2004 Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her tree-planting miracle-in-progress, this is one of those stories that we don’t hear often enough. This is a revolutionary encounter of the inspiring kind. It was on the New York Times front page, and you may read it here.