New Normal

Walking through the city in late March, the cherry blossoms are out. The sun gains warmth with each day. It calls to us, invites us outside. But we are asked to stay inside, to avoid our friends and family. To isolate and social distance. I am heading to my community garden plot and the city feels ominous in a way it never has before. Some businesses have covered windows, in an attempt to curb the recent increase in thefts. Most places are closed, signs in the window letting us know to find them online. The streets are nearly empty, people seem to be taking the state of emergency more seriously. A welcome change from stories of people throwing parties “because they are young and immune” or pushing seniors to the ground to spit at them for reminding people to distance.

There is another woman at the garden, I see her from time to time. Each time she tells me how hard she finds all this; she is in her late 60s or early 70s and has told me she hasn’t much experience with technology. Virtual life is not for her she says. She is used to being outside nearly every day, and I can’t blame her for going a little stir crazy. We chat for a minute six feet apart, she asks me again “how long do you think this will go on for?”. I want to reassure her, but I can’t the truth is it could be weeks, or it could be months. We won’t really know until we come to the end. So, I tell her to hang in there, remind her that the park is ok, but to stay away from groups of people. There is no smile on her face with this answer, just slightly less tension.

The new normal has crept up around the city. Ghost town feelings have begun to drift away as the weather warms up people are out again, walking in the park, in the street, but from a safe distance. Still, things do not feel normal, or comfortable by any means and as we enter our fifth week, cabin fever has begun to seep in. My husbands work has slowed and some weeks he doesn’t work, so I see him more and more as I work from my little home office. The space which once felt roomy and light begins to feel smaller, I find myself closing the office door more often to be alone a little. We find ourselves in a strange kind of isolation – missing social contact but feeling too much of one’s house mates or close family. Suddenly the lack of balcony or yard is a point of contention – how could we be such fools?

Only a few short months ago we gathered with friends, feasting the night away as we rang in the new decade. Such promise ahead, I reflect now, how had I not heard of this impending doom? Apparently, we knew since December, I know when I initially heard the news I didn’t take it seriously. I even scorned my teenage niece for spreading mis-information on her social media, she is probably chuckling now – she wasn’t entirely wrong, and I was being arrogant. So where do we find ourselves now? I arm myself with gloves and hand sanitizer, consciousness seems heightened I am more aware of every item or surface I touch. Who knows what could be lurking on that door handle, shopping cart or package of toilet paper? We apply for EI and emergency funding to make sure the bills keep getting paid, at least I can still work from home. I want to tell myself not to think about it, but that won’t help me now, the plexiglass shields, spaced lineups and 6 million EI claims are there to remind me. We are dealing with something out of the ordinary.

When things began the threat felt imminent, we glued ourselves to the TV, listening to daily 11am live-streams from the prime minister. Waiting to see if our efforts to distance will have made a difference and flattened the curve. For weeks, every talk show and media outlet was spouting “flattening the curve”, from something none of us had to heard of to words which echo in all our minds as we isolate. Weeks in limbo, not knowing day to day whether the other shoe would drop and our precarious situation might come crumbling down. Within my work, reports came in one week – we were to prepare for a surge. Thankfully it didn’t come in our area, instead we saw it come to Quebec and Ontario. Though nothing compared to the Americans, the strain began to be felt in ways more tangible than a run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

I find myself pushing back the daily worries that go beyond the threat of illness; what of our economy, of our small businesses? How long can we all hold on like this before it becomes safe to have things up and running, for that matter can we continue like this? All we can really hope is that some good can come of all this, perhaps as a wider society we will find out truths in how we changed things which will have a lasting positive effect. Maybe the idea of universal basic income won’t seem so crazy after this, or maybe we will see that our economy needs to diversify and to be more self sufficient instead of relying of foreign manufacturing. I hope that some of those things have a chance to be highlighted, or at least the reasons why they are important. The ill effects of global habits and patterns are on display. We stopped making things ourselves – now we find ourselves having potential shortages from places where the pandemic is worse. We rely heavily on a few large industries to keep us going, and now they want bailouts because travel is limited. Will we learn our lessons? Time will tell.

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