BY IAN PATTISON
It is said that good things can come out of bad events, that every cloud has a silver lining, that life’s hardships can be a blessing in disguise. That’s not always evident during a crisis, though. Consumed by adversity, we’re not apt to be thinking about some benefit down the line. It’s all we can do to cope, and hope for relief and a return to something resembling what was.
This pandemic is slowly proving the rule. After four months of living under a rock, so to speak, we are seeing our efforts pay off. The mood is lightening perceptibly. We are able to begin to interact again with our friends and loved ones, albeit in tight-knit circles bound by an odd combination of glee and nervousness.
The coronavirus is by no means slain; it is barely wounded, but it is slowly retreating in parts of the world that took matters seriously and obeyed the rules.
Canada has just crested the 100,000 cases plateau, but on a per-capita basis we are doing much better than other countries, most notably the United States where a haphazard federal response and varying degrees of separation, largely along political lines, see cases spiking even as rules are relaxed. The border closure has been extended into July and most of us approve.
Here at home, in our neighbourhoods and across communities, there is almost a sense of jubilance at the prospect of carefully resuming the lives we had before COVID-19 shut us down and even took people we knew and loved away from us. Those losses will never leave us but they are consoled somewhat by the comforting presence of others who, until recently, we could only see and talk to on our devices.
The simple pleasures of others’ company, even at a respectful distance, is enough to put this whole damnable challenge into perspective. It’s been a tough slog but now we are seeing the benefits in the presence of those we have longed to see, if not hold again.
How good it has been to feel the warmth of summer and the bonds of friendship and love that have been missing for all these months. Smiles are wider, greetings warmer. There is a spring in our step that just wasn’t there, even as we exercised to ward off stiffness and boredom.
There is, of course, danger in moving too quickly, of forgetting the necessities of cleanly care and distance. But our performance to date, reflected in the tiny number of cases in Thunder Bay and the wider region, suggest there will be little in the way of irresponsibility.
Summer begins today at 5:43 p.m. Finally!
Sitting on a deck or around a fire pit on lawn chairs, sharing these many weeks’ experiences and feelings, dredging up memories of the past in stories that might otherwise have lain dormant -- it’s been an uplifting experience tip-toeing out of our homes and back into the lives of those we’ve missed.
Today is also special for another reason. It’s Neighbour Day. For the first time ever, Thunder Bay will mark a day in which neighbours around the world are renewing old ties or making new ones from driveways, over backyard fences or on walks where efforts are made to turn former nods into new friendships forged out of the communal experience of a virus that has touched us all.
Neighbour Day was created by Andrew Heslop and born out of tragedy in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 after the remains of an elderly woman were found inside her suburban home. Elsie Brown had been dead for two years – forgotten by her neighbours, her friends and her family.
While Heslop did not know Mrs. Brown “he was shocked by the apparent ease in which the world had left her behind,” according to neighbourday.org. Widespread media interest followed and it prompted Heslop to suggest a ‘National Check on Your Neighbour Day’ in a letter to the editor of The Melbourne Age.
Heslop was inspired by his own neighbour – 83-year-old Clive Tayler. An active resident on the street, Clive mowed his neighbours’ lawns, picked up the rubbish and recycling bins after collection, and took care of the odd jobs which needed doing.
They are the sorts of things that are regularly reported by readers of this newspaper in the weekly Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down feature where good deeds get their due.
Today we can all find ways to integrate with neighbours we might otherwise never acknowledge or ones we’ve been missing except through our living room windows and on our screens.
Neighbour Day is an opportunity to celebrate and encourage a community spirit that sometimes takes a beating at the hands of keyboarders who like to find fault where others can instead see positivity.
Why not take this opportunity to meet new neighbours, or ones you’ve long seen at a distance? Plan a get-together in your driveway or around the barbecue. Get back in touch with neighbours you’ve been missing and get to know ones who might be invisible in a sense -- the elderly, the vulnerable, and those new to Canada. They all need a friend more than ever these days.
“Neighbours are important because good relationships with others can transform communities,” says the website. “Social connection also makes us feel better as it helps prevent loneliness, isolation and depression.”
Why not contact your neighbours today and get them to help get the ball rolling on your street. Then share the goodness that comes from these efforts in letters to the editor or Thumbs submissions in The Chronicle-Journal. The city website also invites stories of neighbourliness that result from this initiative. It’s something to build on, not just annually but daily.
Knowing your neighbours can help transform neighbourhoods into welcoming, safe and inclusive places to live. These days, that’s a goal we can all live with in order to live better.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.