On being … a roller coaster of emotions

By Ingrid Sapona

Sometimes the deadline for On being… approaches and I’m idealess. Those occasions are a challenge, but they’re useful, as they force me to reflect on my intention for On being…. Then there are other times when I get an idea for the next column pretty much the day after I publish one. That’s what happened this time. So, on January 2nd I decided today’s column was going to be called: On being … in check.

The idea came to me when a friend said to me – very sincerely – “Oh, you must be SO DISAPPOINTED” when I told her that my planned kitchen reno is officially on hold. The reno’s been in the works for awhile and the plan was for it to be done in March or April. I’ve ordered appliances and was getting ready to order the cabinets but, the day after Christmas, Ontario introduced further restrictions to try to control Covid. As a result, my condo board has advised that renovations that hadn’t been started must be put off.  

While it’s frustrating not knowing how long the delay may be (timing of ordering the cupboards was going to be tricky in any event), I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. After all, it’s just a delay. There was nothing magic about March or April. Besides, other than the fact that my microwave and dishwasher are on the fritz, there’s really nothing wrong with the kitchen so waiting isn’t really even a hardship.

Then, after learning about my reno delay, Covid interfered with another plan I’ve had since this time last year. Friends and I were booked on a January 7th flight for our annual trip to Mexico. We knew from others who winter there that they feel safe thanks to mandatory mask wearing and social distancing restrictions in effect. But, given new restrictions added in Mexico and on our return, days before the flight we decided not to go. Major disappointment… But, hope springs eternal and we re-booked the condo and the flight for late spring.  

Given that 2021 feels it’s pretty much a continuation of 2020, on January 2 I decided to make a (belated) New Year’s resolution to help me cope with the inevitable disappointments that lie ahead. My resolution is to always “check in” with myself to assess whether the basis of a complaint or feeling of disappointment relates to a need or to a want. If it’s because of an unfulfilled need, I’ll give myself permission to be upset – and then I’ll try to figure out another way to fulfill it. If the complaint or disappointment relates to a want, well – what’s that expression about putting on your grownup pants?

So, in my mind, this column was done – I was going to write about being straight with myself about wants versus needs. And then came the events of January 6th. Like so many, I watched in amazement and sadness as the U. S. Capitol was overrun by a mob. I can’t say I was surprised – Trump has been rallying his supporters toward violence since his pre-election rallies in 2016. But still, the fact that the U.S. has descended into mob rule is unfathomable.

The next morning as I read newspaper reports of the events at the U.S. Capitol and the daily tragic news about the pandemic, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness. It seemed each article sent me on an emotional roller coaster with a flood of On being… topics coming fast and furious. As I’ve mentioned before, thinking in terms of On being… is one of my coping mechanisms – a way I sort out emotions. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll share some of the On being … ideas that have struck me these first few days of January:

On being … in denial – The only way the Capitol police could have been surprised by the mob that was carrying out Trump’s wishes is if they were in denial.

On being … allowed – The fact that the mainly white mob was not suppressed with any show of force is pretty clearly a sign of white privilege.

On being … a coward behind bullet proof glass – Convenient that when inciting the crowd at the rally on the 6th, Trump, Don Junior, and Rudy Giuliani were at a podium safely behind bullet proof glass. And then, after urging the mob to march to the Capitol, Trump and his pals were driven in a secret service-protected motorcade back to the White House. And of course, when Trump finally leaves Washington, he’ll be free to continue his ranting, lying, and inciting violence all the while he’s protected for life by the Secret Service. Such a hero…

On being … divisive – How dare the Republicans argue that bringing an impeachment action is divisive rather than healing! Reminiscent of the old pot and kettle adage, don’t you think? How is perpetuating a lie about a stolen election not divisive? And what have those lying Republican legislators who tried to overturn the results in various states done to try to heal the divide?

On being … a fortress – How sad to see Washington, D.C. turned into an armed fortress. While it’s understandable – in light of last week’s events and in light of the upcoming inauguration – it’s still sad. Just think of it, they’ve called in more than 20,000 National Guard troops to prevent Americans from harming Americans…

On being … too soon forgotten – My biggest fear is that in a few weeks people will lose interest. No lessons will be learned and no changes will result. How much you want to bet that by month’s end people will talk more about what Lady Gaga or JLo wore at the inauguration than about how to mend the nation?

What about you? What are you feeling these first few days of the New Year? Any On being … -type topics you’re struggling to come to grips with?

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … too much in 2020

By Ingrid Sapona

Since 2011, my December 30th column has been a look back at the year based on the alphabet – you know, A is for…, B is for…, and so on. From about February on I keep a list of news stories and topics I find interesting or unusual. I enjoy the challenge of the alpha look-back because it engages me all year. By the time Christmas rolls around, I usually have only a few letters left to write about.

This year was no different and by December I had all but five letters covered. But the past couple weeks I decided to ditch my alpha review because a look back at 2020 ought to be different. Indeed, I think most would agree that a more fitting year-end review must involve reflecting on – both in sadness and in shock – some of the year’s tragic numbers.

Of course, the most devastating number is the number of people who have died from Covid-19 this year. As of 10 a.m. December 29, 2020, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there have been 1,778,266 deaths world-wide. Of that total, 335,208 deaths were in the U.S. and 15,202 have been in Canada.

I realize numbers – especially large ones – are an abstraction that can be difficult to understand or relate to. Given that, as I noted in my May 30, 2020 On being… column, I often search for comparisons as a way of providing perspective. CBS Sunday Morning offered a truly mind-blowing perspective on the U.S. death toll this week: they noted that if they did a ONE SECOND tribute for each of the Americans who have died of Covid-19 so far – it would take nearly 4 days. (To be more specific, at 86,400 seconds/day it would take – non-stop – 3.88 days for a one second tribute, which would realistically amount to just flashing a photo or quickly saying the name of each American who has died from Covid-19.)

I can’t understand why the people of a nation as rich and powerful as the United States are not enraged by the death toll. (Or at least they are not enraged enough to demand that their leaders lead.)  What does it say about a society that allows 1 in 1,000 of its citizens to die from a disease rather than come together and do all they can to protect themselves and each other?

But it wasn’t just five and six-digit numbers that I wish more Americans cared about in 2020. Another anguishing statistic relates to the number of federal executions carried out this year. Since July, the U.S. government has executed 10 federal death-row prisoners. While capital punishment proponents might point out that with 17 executed nationwide in 2020 (10 federal prisoners and 7 state prisoners), overall, 2020 saw the lowest number of executions in the U.S. since 1991.While that’s true, the fact is that until this year, there had not been a federal execution since 2003. I find it so troubling that no one seems to be asking why the sudden reinstitution of federal executions? What’s changed?

The year also saw a record-setting 30 Atlantic hurricanes. (That was the most storms since “reliable records” began being kept over 100 years ago.) To those who didn’t suffer the direct impact of any of the 12 storms that made landfall in the U.S., the significance of the storms might not be of particular import. But, failing to believe there’s a relationship to the intensity and frequency of such storms and climate change imperils the world and should be of concern to us all. And yet, there are millions who deny that climate change is real. In a recent YouGov Cambridge Globalism 2020 survey, fully 10% of Americans responding said this statement is definitely true: “The idea of man-made global warming is a hoax that was invented to deceive people”; an additional 17% of Americans polled believe the statement is “probably true”. Even more troubling is that 14% of Americans surveyed believe that climate is changing but that human activity is not responsible at all. (Of the 25 countries included in the survey, the only country with a higher percentage of respondents believing that human activity is not responsible for climate change was Indonesia, with 18% believing that.) 

Huge government expenditures – and therefore huge deficits – also mark 2020 here in Canada (and, I imagine, in other countries). Strict shutdowns, border closures, and stay at home measures brought the economy to a near halt in the spring. So, to help Canadians through the fiscal crisis, the Canadian government made available an array of support payments to help businesses and people. The daily announcements of millions and millions in aid was dizzying and of concern to many taxpayers who feared the government’s seemingly unchecked spending. By the end of November, the Canadian federal government was projecting a $381.6 billion budget deficit for 2020-2021 – up from $39.4 billion for 2019-2020. For a country of just 37.5 million people, $381+ billion is nothing to sneeze at. But, on balance, most Canadians favour temporarily shutting down the economy and offering handouts to help control the pandemic. Still, 2020’s spending will impact us for years to come.

These are just a few examples of the many disturbing numbers that marked 2020 – there are many other shocking numbers we should be concerned about. (The number of lives lost to gun violence in the U.S. has been on my year-end alpha list many, many times and it probably should be mentioned here, as should the number of blacks killed by police. But honestly, I suspect the 2020 figures related to U.S. gun violence and police killing of blacks wasn’t much out of line with what it’s been for a long while.)

My hope for the new year is that 2021 is not marked by horrifying numbers and that at this time next year, we have happier things to reflect on.

Stay well and care for each other now and throughout the New Year.

Thank you for reading On being….

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being … rekindled

By Ingrid Sapona

When I hear about a book that sounds interesting, I go on the Toronto Public Library website to borrow it or put my name on the waiting list for it. With popular books, the wait is sometimes so long that I forget why I thought it would be an interesting read. My memory lapse, however, often proves magical as some books end up feeling like the embodiment of Lao Tzu’s idea that “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

This week when I got a notification one of my holds was available, I was surprised to learn it was Barack Obama’s new book. I had placed a hold on it when it was released in November, but the waiting list was long. I suspect that the demand was so high, the library probably ended up purchasing additional copies. Anyway, mindful of the fact that e-books with waiting lists can’t be renewed, I downloaded it immediately and later that afternoon I started it.

After pausing to reflect on the dedications and the brief inspirational poems, I dove into the Preface. I didn’t get too far before I was overcome with emotion. On one level, I felt like I was meeting a friend who I’d not seen for awhile. You know that feeling – part wonderment at being able to pick up where you left off and part sudden awareness of things you didn’t even realize you had been missing. By about the third page of the Preface I realized what it was I’ve been missing: the beauty of language. That, in turn, made me aware of my resentment toward how pathetically small our social vocabulary has become over the past four years. The main reason for this is that Trump has the vocabulary and syntax a third grader.

Initially, I think people assumed his word choice was calculating. His use of simple words like stupid, fake, nasty, and loser made him seem relatable, so the argument went. But, after listening to him for four years, it’s obvious that his word choices are a reflection of the limits of his vocabulary. After all, even when talking about things he likes, or when he’s bragging about his tremendous skills and abilities, the only word he can think of is “great”. Well, in fairness, occasionally he throws in a “the likes of which” for emphasis.

Over time, it’s also became clear that Trump’s limited vocabulary is a reflection of the immaturity of his analytical skills. Even when the proverbial chips were down and everything was on the line (in his mind), Trump was unable to describe the Supreme Court’s decision this past week as anything other than a kid in a schoolyard might. For those who may have missed his insightful tweet about it, he characterized the U.S. Supreme Court justices as having “chickened out” when they denied the Texas Attorney General’s motion to block the ballots of voters in various battle-ground states.

Perhaps most concerning about Trump’s limited vocabulary is how true a reflection it is of his morality. After all, when the primary word you use to describe others is stupid, describing members of the military who have died as suckers or losers is hardly a stretch.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that only big words can convey complex, important ideas. Far from it. Simple words can certainly be used to convey nuanced thinking. Here’s an example of Obama’s use of the single syllable word “watch” in the second paragraph of the Preface: “I hoped to give an honest rendering my time in office – not just a historical record of key events that happened on my watch…” Can you imagine Trump talking about himself as watching over the country’s wellbeing? Trump’s more likely to use the temp to garner attention, as in: “Hey – watch me!”

In just the first few pages of Obama’s book I was reminded of all sorts of words that have been sorely absent from public discourse over the past four years – words like humankind, norms, service, and safeguard. I’m sure Trump’s familiar with these words and their definitions, but the absence of them from his vocabulary speaks volumes about how little he cares about the ideas they represent.

Obama’s book has been just the balm I need now to lift my spirits remind me of the possibilities.  So, here’s to reacquainting ourselves with the dictionary in 2021 and to the return of the kind of well-developed vocabulary needed for thoughtful, in-depth analysis, and polite public discourse.

Happy Holidays everyone – look out for yourself AND for each other!

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... out of touch

By Ingrid Sapona

What comes to mind when you read: goat butter? Do you think: “Maybe it’s a quirky invective or interjection – kind of like bollix or fiddle-faddle.” Or maybe you think: “Yum – gotta get me some of that!”

If you fall into the latter category, then perhaps you’ll be pleased to hear that Goat Butter Shortbread is the Number 4 recipe on Epicurious’ list of the "109 Best Cookie Recipes to Make Again and Again." Honestly – Epicurious’ editors think Goat Butter Shortbread “may be the star of your Christmas cookie platter.”

Mind you, if you’ve just used up the last of your goat butter for some other recipe, don’t worry. Of the 109 Best Cookie Recipes, there are other shortbread recipes you might be interested in. For example, Number 24: Blood Orange and Poppy Seed Polenta Shortbread. If you can’t find any fresh blood oranges, that’s ok. The editor’s say you can use bottled blood orange juice and the zest of a navel orange. What’s that? Your grocery store doesn’t have any blood orange juice? Damn – this Covid-thing is really screwing up supply chains, eh? 

But again, no worries: scroll on down to Number 102 for the Whole Grain Shortbread with Einkorn and Rye Flour recipe. Surely you have einkorn flour in your pantry. (And while you’re pulling that out – you’ll also need some rye flour and a bit of rice flour for that particular recipe.)

I’ve always found Epicurious’ lists ridiculous. How can 109 recipes all be “the best”? Heck, the editors couldn’t even agree on THE best shortbread recipe – there are seven on the list! I guess the idea is that with 109 recipes, there’s bound to be something any given reader would want to try. Indeed, the fact that I read through the list is testament to the reality that even absurdly titled lists draw readers in.

Of course, Epicurious’ editors aren’t the only ones who love list-based headlines. Just last week the New York Times’ Cooking newsletter featured “47 Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers”. And Food 52 had one called “55 Crock-Pot Recipes to Set & Forget.” Other than being surprised at the sheer number of unique Thanksgiving leftover recipes and crock-pot recipes – I don’t find those headlines nearly as annoying as Epicurious’ 109 Best Cookie headline. Why? Because neither of the other two lists are pretending to be anything more than a cumulation of recipes of a certain type. The Times and Food 52 aren’t touting any of those recipes as being anything more than tried and considered decent enough to pass on – no claims to being “the best”.

As I noted, though I snickered at Epicurious’ absurd title, I figured it was worth a quick scroll through. But, I didn’t get very far into it before I got irritated. The goat butter shortbread recipe was the first that had me shaking my head. Trust me, it’s not because the idea of goat butter grosses me out – after all, how different could it be from chevre, which is also made of goat milk. No, I was annoyed because it seems wrong to feature recipes with obscure ingredients with a damned pandemic going on!

I’m all for trying new recipes – heck – that’s why I subscribe to such newsletters. And I get that many folks are feeling Covid-fatigue and so they’re looking for inspiration and maybe trying a new recipe will help. But showcasing recipes with esoteric ingredients is tantamount to sending folks out on a treasure hunt. Given how rampant the virus is in many places, the editors may as well have added corona virus to the ingredient list. After all, the more stores and places intrepid bakers visit in their search, the more they risk exposure to Covid. And why? To try a new Christmas cookie recipe?

If your thinking that a more appropriate title for this column would have been On being … over the top (given the goat butter and all), you’re right. But the very first thought I had when I saw multiple recipes with hard to find ingredients is that the editors are really out of touch. Out of touch with both the availability of such items and with the realities of the risks related to traipsing around for ingredients during a pandemic.

Post Script: After I finished this column, I decided to see whether any of the major Canadian grocery delivery services (Loblaws, Voila by Sobeys, and Longo’s Grocery Gateway) carry goat butter, blood orange juice, or einkorn flour. Well, it turns out they ALL carry goat butter – but not the juice or flour. So, I guess Canadian bakers interested in trying cookie Number 4 can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they can get out goat butter delivered to their door. Even so, this year I’ll stick to baking a batch of my Mom’s brown sugar shortbread. They’re delicious and comforting – the perfect antidote to Covid-fatigue – not to mention, I always have butter, brown sugar, and all-purpose flour on hand.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... on edge

By Ingrid Sapona

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s a day we honour Canadian forces, particularly those who have died in foreign wars. The date is significant because it marks the date fighting in World War I stopped. Canada lost over 66,000 servicemen and women in WWI – almost one third more than it lost in WWII.

In the U.S., November 11th is Veteran’s Day, which is also to honour vets. As I first noted in an On being … in November 2010, Remembrance Day has a very different feel than Veteran’s Day. Here, for example, at 11a.m. that day most Canadians observe a moment of silence. As well, in the days leading up to the 11th you see a proliferation of red poppy lapel pins. Millions of people wear them on their coats and jackets to honour and support veterans. The pins represent the poppies that emerged from the undisturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders. Wearing a poppy is a simple gesture but it speaks volumes to Canadians and to those in other Commonwealth countries.

About a week before Remembrance Day a news story broke about Whole Foods employees not being allowed to wear Remembrance Day poppies at work. When asked by media outlets why, the company “explained” that it honours Remembrance Day in other ways, but its dress code prohibits any additions to the company’s standard uniform, other than for items required by law.

The day this story emerged I was running errands. When I heard it on the radio, I was enraged. Alone in my car, I yelled at the radio, railing about the ignorance of the U.S.-based company. How could they do business here and yet be so ignorant of what the poppy means to Canadians? The poppy doesn’t have any political significance, nor is it a symbol of protest. It’s simply a symbol of remembrance. Didn’t they get that? There aren’t many Whole Foods stores here in Canada (only 14 across the country), but from that moment on, I promised myself I’d never shop there again and I planned on urging friends to boycott the store as well.

As the story unfolded, it was clear I wasn’t the only person appalled by Whole Foods’ decision. The most vocal critic was Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford – a bombastic Conservative who I almost never see eye-to-eye with. When Ford heard about Whole Foods’ position, he urged the company to apologize and reverse its decision. And then, when Whole Foods made it clear it would not reverse its policy, he vowed to introduce legislation prohibiting any company from banning the wearing of poppies at work during Remembrance week.

Hearing Ford’s comment I literally cheered him on. Not only that, I relished the thought of what he might name that bill. You see, the Ford government has a penchant for attaching absurd names to bills. Here are just a few examples: “Bill 100, Protecting What Matters Most Act (Budget Measures), 2019; Bill 224, No Time to Waste Act (Plan for Climate Action and Jobs), 2020; Bill 221, Exalting Our Veterans Act, 2020; Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act, and so on. How about: The FU Whole Foods Act of 2020?

Later that day I mentioned the Whole Foods poppy story to a friend. He hadn’t heard about it. I explained Whole Foods’ tremendous cultural insensitivity, but gleefully noted that Ford would help them see the error of their ways. My friend – a Conservative – agreed that the store’s policy was ridiculous, but he didn’t think we need legislation about it. To be honest, what shocked him the most was my unequivocal support of Ford and his idea of passing a law about wearing poppies. I admitted it was unusual to be on the same side of an issue as Premier Ford, but it was a testament to how angry I was by Whole Foods’ attitude.

After speaking with my friend, I started thinking about why I had such a strong reaction. Was I over-reacting? Was my reaction really all about the poppies? I think it was … but still, perhaps it was stronger than it should have been.

A few days later (Nov. 7th), I got an email from a friend in Scotland. She sent a screen shot of a news alert she had just received on her phone that said the Associated Press called the presidential race in favour of Biden. In the email she commented that she was in the grocery store when the alert came in and that, as she read it, she found herself in tears. Then she added, “I hadn’t realised the fear I was feeling that Trump might win.”

Her words really rang a bell with me. Beyond agreeing with her joy that Biden had finally (albeit unofficially) been declared the winner, we both understood that her uncontrolled tears were a subconscious release of pressure that had been building up. That, in turn, made me wonder whether my (over)reaction to the Whole Foods story was like her tears – a way of venting fears and anxieties I’ve been harbouring about the election and the pandemic.

I decided to write about this because I’m sure there are others out there like me and my friend – folks who are generally coping ok, but who may be caught by surprise by the depth of their reactions. If you find yourself reacting to something in ways that seem unusual, perhaps you’re more on edge than you realize.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... more aware

By Ingrid Sapona

I switched tv/internet providers and as part of the deal, I got a two-month free trial of HBO. The one-line description of the miniseries The Undoing intrigued me. It’s an HBO production and it stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Since I like both of them, I decided to check it out.

I have odd/bad viewing habits. Usually I have the tv on in the background as I’m doing something else (a bit of food prep or light housework, for example). If I’m familiar with the actors and the characters they play, I typically follow along just by listening and glancing at the screen every now and then. When starting a new show, however, I try to give the screen my undivided attention to get the characters straight and to decide whether the story’s interesting to me.

So, the other day I sat down and started watching The Undoing. After the opening credit montage there’s a short scene that foreshadows some plot point that will no doubt be central to the series. Don’t worry – no spoiler alert necessary because I couldn’t even tell you what happens in the first episode.

The truth is, I pretty much tuned out because I was distracted by the very next scene. Actually, I’m not even sure you’d call it a scene. It was a series of still photos of the stately buildings along Central Park West that then dissolve to a short snippet of film showing a bustling New York City street full of cars. When I saw all the traffic, the thought that immediately popped into my head was, “Oh, this is a period piece. It obviously takes place pre-Covid.” I know – a pretty odd though to become distracted over. And yet, distract me it did.

I was struck by how quickly my subconscious compared the brief, bustling urban street scene with the desolate downtown streets that have become the hallmark of large cities grappling with Covid-19. It’s the same kind of thought process I’d have if I was watching a movie and noticed all the cars were Model Ts. In that case, my mind would go to work to figure out what era the film is set in based on the cars. But even so, I was surprised by the fact that in just seven or so months, my subconscious has obviously adopted a different vision of what a contemporary urban street scene looks like. So, the notion of “the time of Covid” has already become a social reference for my subconscious.

That got me thinking about other changes taking place in society that seep into our subconscious without us even noticing. And of course, once I started thinking about this, I noticed others are thinking about the same thing. Indeed, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column on Oct. 28th titled, “The Floor of Decency”.  In that piece, Brooks posited that before the Trump presidency there was a “basic minimum standard of behavior to be an accepted member of society”. As he put it, “… a lot of us weren’t even really conscious of this floor. It was just there, like the sidewalk you step on when you walk down the street.”

Brooks argued that Trump hasn’t just lowered the floor – he has smashed it. He refers to various things Trump’s said and done to show that there no longer is such a floor. That floor, says Brooks, upheld a “basic standard for political behaviour so it was not just dog eat dog.” And with the floor gone, citizens lose faith in government, institutions, and ultimately, in each other.

The conclusion Brooks basically comes to is that the years of Trump have made him aware of how fragile our standards of basic decency are. Armed with this keen awareness of the importance of a floor of decency, he ends on a hopeful note: that a new leader may “bring us back to a world of no bottom.”   

I decided to write about these stories today because to me they have a common theme. They’re both about the idea that lurking below our consciousness are norms, views, and standards that it’s easy to ignore until something comes along to uproot them. And, while it isn’t that important to became aware of something like “the time of Covid” becoming a reference point for our lives, it was a good reminder to me of just how fast notions become engrained in our subconscious. And, coupled with Brooks’ new recognition of the significance of a floor of decency, I have a new-found interest in uncovering the values and ideas lurking in my subconscious. After all, if we don’t learn to recognize the norms and values that matter to us on a subliminal level – things like honesty and integrity – we run the risk of letting them slip away.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … a dose of pandemic wisdom

 By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really enjoyed some of the pandemic-related funnies folks have circulated. One friend of mine was a particularly diligent forwarder of Covid-humour those first few months. I have no idea where he got them all, but he sent a weekly compilation every Friday. The emails tapered off when he returned to the office, but he’s recently revived the mailings (in honour of the second wave, I think).

Three from his latest batch struck particular chords with me and – like all good humour – got me thinking. The first one was this tongue-in-cheek comment on hindsight:

Besides putting a smile on my face, the comment brought into focus a couple of realizations. First is the simple truth that back in March, few among us would have imagined that in October we’d still be missing some of simple things we once enjoyed (like the happy-go-lucky freedom of eating out). In an odd way, the joke also speaks to another realization I’ve come to as I’ve observed subtle changes in peoples’ behaviour of late. As the numbers of COVID cases have been going up again, more than a few of my friends have mentioned things they’re doing now, “before things get closed down again”. They’re going to get their hair cut, for example, and stocking up on “essentials” they fear might soon be in short supply. In other words, they’re ordering dessert while they have the chance! Of course, the reason this simple funny comment rings true is because of the life lesson at the heart of it: make the most of today because no one knows what changes tomorrow will bring.

And, for those prescient few – I’ll call them the Covid-whisperers – who might claim they realized early on that the rest of 2020 would be pretty much a write-off, consider this gem of pandemic comic wisdom:

I’ll bet it applies to the Covid-whisperers too…

But on a serious note, I imagine that for some it reinforces a belief that five-year plans are a waste. For other, perhaps it brings to mind the famous stanza in Robby Burn’s poem “To a Mouse” about the best laid schemes… What I thought of when I read it is not the folly of planning where you’ll be in five years. I say chart away and set sail – but do so knowing that the most important skill you’ll need is the ability to adapt!

And finally – this last one I love because it’s both sweet and profound:

Like many, over the course of the pandemic, I’ve reflected on how I’m coping and I’ve read about how others are coping. For folks who’ve remained healthy, it seems that how they’re coping has a lot to do with their economic situation and with the day-to-day tasks they have to juggle. For many women with families there’s a lot of pressure related to keeping children engaged and it’s a lot of work getting groceries and preparing meals day in, day out for the gang. On the flip side, some who live alone – especially seniors – are having a rough time because they feel socially isolated. By comparison to many, I feel very fortunate that I’ve not felt much stress or anxiety because of the pandemic. About the worst I can report is frustration about not being able to make plans to see my sisters for the holidays.

I loved the photo because it’s cute and clever. I think visualizing the pandemic as mud that we’re all struggling to get through is quite apt. And the depth of the mud is a good metaphor for the difficulties and challenges brought by the pandemic. The picture reminds us that that no one will be able to say how deep the mud is until we’re out of it. And even then, the depth will be relative to each of us.

But what I like best about the picture is the hope it represents. To me it shows that regardless of our size and shape, with dogged determination we can come out of the mud standing tall and strong (if a bit dirtier for the ordeal).

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being … insights from a stranger

By Ingrid Sapona

Because of the pandemic, I’ve taken to daily walks to try to maintain cardio fitness. I’ve found a few different routes I like, but on weekday mornings I tend to do the same route – a nice mix of flat and hills. I go at pretty much the same time every morning and so there’s a handful of folks I see regularly enough that we greet each other.

That particular route takes me through a streetcar underpass (kind of a tunnel) and past a streetcar stop called Humber Loop. This stop is a juncture for a few different lines and a bus route. Unlike most streetcar stops, Humber Loop has a brick building that serves mainly as a rest stop/service stop for streetcar drivers. On one end of the building, however, is a glass enclosed waiting area for folks to wait out of the cold or rain. There are lights and a few very uncomfortable benches, but that’s it.

Because I walk very early, I’ve noticed some homeless people sleeping on the hard, cold benches. The building is not heated, nor are there any public washrooms – it’s strictly shelter from the elements. It always makes me sad to see them, but I figure at least it’s better than them being outside.

One morning last week, as I was passing through the Loop, I noticed a senior ambling up the hill a bit ahead of me. She was going slowly and I knew I’d end up passing her, but I hesitated a bit because I figured she probably didn’t expect to hear anyone behind her at that hour. When I caught up to her, I gave her a wide birth – not just to social distance, but so as not to frighten her. As I passed, I made sure to say good morning, so she knew I was friendly.

When she looked up, I saw she had on a face mask. She was wearing a black raincoat and I noticed a lapel pin that looked like a cross and she was holding rosary beads. When she returned my greeting, I noticed she had a charming, old-world accent that sounded Italian. When I apologized for possibly startling her, she assured me I hadn’t. She then pulled down her mask, making it clear she wanted to have a bit of a conversation.

She said she was just thinking about those poor men – pointing in the direction of the streetcar building. I said yes, it’s sad to see them. I told her that I’ve noticed three or four men there every morning. She shook her head. I said that the only good thing about the whole situation is that at least they’re not out in the cold and rain. But, I added, I know it’s not heated and when winter comes, it must be awful. She agreed but added, “Never mind the cold… that’s not the worst”

I quickly interjected, “Oh I know, where do they get food?” “It’s not just that,” she added again. Pointing to the facemask pulled down under her chin, she said, “We feel safer because of this, but what about them? Because of the virus, there aren’t even places for them to clean themselves now!” I nodded in agreement, as these are all things I’d thought about all these mornings.

Then, looking more distraught, she said, “But worst of all… they have no LOVE. There’s no one to touch them, to love them. Everyone needs love. And who loves them?” I was dumbstruck by her insight and all I could do was nod in sad agreement.

When I composed myself a bit, I confessed to her that I’d never thought of that aspect of homelessness. Though I’ve often thought about – and donated to charities that provide – food and shelter for people living on the street, I never thought about the fact that they have no one to love them. After a few minutes of silent, shared anguish, we began walking together up the little hill. When we got to the top, we nodded at each other and headed off in different directions.

The rest of that morning’s walk I could think of nothing but the conversation I had with that stranger – a woman I’ve never seen before, or since. Her innocent lament helped me realize how focused I’ve always been on people’s physical needs. Though I do believe it’s important to ease hunger – because it impacts body and mind – I’ve disregarded the most crucial needs of all – the need for love and a sense of belonging.

I wish I could end this column by telling you I’ve done something to help fill those kinds of needs for any of the homeless people I see in the morning. But I haven’t come up with any concrete way of doing that. Nonetheless, I’ve thought about that stranger’s comment so many times in the past 10 days, I felt the need to write about it.

Thanksgiving is around the corner here in Canada. I know many of us have been thinking about the fact that Thanksgiving will be very different this year because of Covid-19. But, for many homeless people, I’ll bet it won’t feel much different from any other day. My hope is that those of us in a position to ease the hunger and physical harshness the homeless face – on Thanksgiving and every other day – will do so. But, regardless of any monetary support you may be able to provide to help the homeless, my hope is that this column prompts you to also recognize the void of love and loneliness homeless people face every day and that you try to help fill that void.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona