When we walked outside again
Our third COVID spring has sprung.
I have this memory of some day in April 2020 when everyone went outside.
By then, we would have been locked down for several weeks. No one knew what would happen in the next three months (the mass deaths within Quebec’s CHSLDs) or the next six months (the mass deaths everywhere else) or the next three years (that COVID would become the second leading reason for hospitalization in Canada, and the third leading cause of death in Canada.) No one knew.
What we did know was that we couldn’t be near anyone.
But on this day, it was sunny and spring warm; the kind of warmth that would perhaps make you dread winter as you bregrudingly put on a coat in early October but that, in April, makes you think of lake swimming. And on this one street, a quiet, residential street that is tucked in between two major east-west corridors, was everyone.
Everyone came outside for a walk at the same time.
There must have been thousands of people. It looked like a parade, though with lots of distance between walkers. No one knew if COVID-19 could spread outside yet and so people kept their distance from others. But they were out.
This time of the year, when crocuses are up in south-facing gardens but east-facing gardens are still covered by three feet of snow, whispers to us: go outside. Get out of your dwelling. You walk, kicking gravel into the backs of your shoes from streets that haven’t been swept yet, and finally feel the warmth that you’ve missed for six months.
Snow shelters are coming down.
I think often about that moment where time stopped; where our plans were jettisoned and we hunkered down, under routines or work that had to continue despite the pressures we faced. With children home. I think about the fear and the danger and the people who lived at CHSLD Ste-Dorothée who were in respiratory distress and were given morphine rather than oxygen. Or the residents, already dead by April now, who were found on the floors of their residence rooms and who probably cried out in vain for help, even though help had already fled.
About how despite everything, there was reason to be optimistic. For a flash in time, the most important thing was life. Not profits. Not greed. Not patronage or cronyism, but life.
Of course, it was just a flash. Shorter than a spring walk. Shorter than the joy of seeing thousands of your neighbours take over the streets to spread out and walk and breathe and visit. Shorter even than noticing the first crocuses pierce through the earth.
In writing this, I realize that today is April 12. Three years ago, I became the only journalist in Canada counting the dead. I counted and counted and still, I count. Because while I think of the dead and I know that their suffering was absolutely in vain, I still also know that that flash of optimism, even if it’s even shorter and dimmer and harder to feel; I know that it’s still there, pulsing through the gentle breeze of spring air.