National Post (National Edition)
Renewed hope for a bright future
We've all seen it before: some catastrophe strikes the world — zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, natural disaster, killer virus — and people immediately take to the streets and begin rioting and looting. Humanity's downfall appears to be caused as much by our reaction to events, as the external forces that are beyond our control. At least, that's how it usually plays out in Hollywood.
In mid-March, when the World Health Organization declared that the novel coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 had become a pandemic and governments around the world started shutting everything down, the fear and uncertainty Canadians were forced to confront felt to many like the kind of disaster scenario they had only ever seen on the silver screen.
Few who are alive today will forget that precarious time. As those whose job it is to report the news, we certainly know we won't. Every day — indeed, almost every hour — it seemed as though there was a fresh helping of bad news to report.
Borders were closing and people were getting stuck in far-flung lands. Prime ministers and celebrities were falling ill. No one was certain exactly how the virus spread, but initial studies found it could survive on surfaces for days. Suddenly, reaching for a box of cereal in a grocery store or stopping to chat with a neighbour presented a mortal danger.
Millions lost their jobs or were forced to cut back their work hours to care for their children or sick loved ones. Others put themselves and their families at risk just by showing up to work every day. Hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment, stores had sold out of hand sanitizer and many feared widespread disruptions to the food supply.
But there was no looting or senseless violence in the streets, as there was in the film Contagion. No scenes of mass panic and destruction like in War of the Worlds. On the contrary, despite the need to be physically distant, many communities came together in unprecedented ways.
“The other day, we received a (block association) email asking if anyone needed help during the COVID-19 period of self-isolation, especially us oldies — and if anyone was willing to donate their time for tasks. Immediately, offers poured in to shop, dog walk or chauffeur for anyone in need of such services. That was heartwarming,” wrote the National Post's Barbara Kay on March 18.
“Then the other night I had a call from a volunteer at our synagogue who wanted to know if we were OK and if there was anything we needed. … That was heartwarming, too.”
That's just one example. Canadians from coast to coast have their own stories of neighbours, houses of worship, businesses and community organizations banding together to help each other during unprecedented times.
In cities throughout the country, loud cheering could be heard on a nightly basis to give thanks to front-line health-care workers. “It's easy to zone out and just do your job, but when you see everyone come together and support you — I never saw anything like that in my life,” remarked a Toronto nurse.
A truck stop in Nova Scotia started providing free hot meals to weary truckers who were spending long hours trying to ensure Canadians had the goods they needed to survive. This is my “first warm meal in 11 days,” said one of them.
At an independent living home in Vancouver, a fitness instructor with a pair of speakers led a dance routine from the courtyard, as socially distant seniors jived on their balconies. “They all were so happy, we had one person who was crying,” said the manager of the facility.
In one Toronto neighbourhood, condo residents took to their balconies after noticing that someone was projecting video games on the side of a highrise building. Using the internet, neighbours were able to connect with one another, and eventually started participating in the games online.
In another neighbourhood, a local opera singer started serenading people from her balcony every evening. Those living around her quickly took notice and could often be heard clapping and cheering.
When PPE started running low, many distilleries switched from producing vodka and gin, and started making hand sanitizer that was given away to hospitals and other institutions free of charge. Volunteers started sewing masks. And manufacturers retooled on a dime to ensure the country did not run out of ventilators.
Stories such as these abounded at the beginning of the pandemic, and have continued throughout — from the plumber who built candy chutes on Halloween and donated the money to the food bank, to charities providing gifts and food to those in need over the holidays, despite sharp drops in revenue.
This is not to say the pandemic did not also bring out the bad side of human nature. We have been particularly concerned about those who have been putting the lives of others in their communities at risk by deliberately disregarding public health advice and encouraging others to do the same.
But the millions of heartwarming stories of people throughout Canada, and around the world, engaging in selfless acts of kindness during this pandemic have renewed our faith in Canadians, and in humanity.
Over the course of this year, we have stared fear in the eye, we have overcome incredibly adversity and, by developing numerous COVID-19 vaccines in record time, we have shown that mankind can still do big things. This has been an incredibly lousy year, but the takeaway from it all is that the future is bright.