On being … time to come out of hibernation?

By Ingrid Sapona

 For me, the title of each column is crucial. Sometimes the title comes quickly and feels inevitable. I love when that happens. Coming up with the title at the outset doesn’t necessarily mean the column writes itself, but it certainly helps keep me focused. At least half the time I start with one title but as I write, a better one – more accurate, more nuanced, more honest, cleverer, or whatever – comes to mind. And then there are times when I realize the truth of the title hinges on a simple question mark.

 Last week a B.C. ski resort’s surveillance cameras caught on video a grizzly bear coming out of its den after winter hibernation. Apparently, this bear has been using the same den on the resort property for 20+ years. Snout first, the grizzly climbed out into the spring snow and sunshine. That same day I heard that the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. were near peak bloom already. And the very next day I saw a small boat under full sail here in Humber Bay – my backyard. I shivered thinking about the cold March wind pushing it along.

These signs of spring happen every year, of course, but this year they captured my attention in a way that doesn’t always happen. Maybe it was because they all happened within 48 hours. Maybe. But I think the real impact on me had to do with the fact they got me thinking about reawakening, renewal, and change – you know, those things the poets tell us spring is all about. And yes, those words immediately started tumbling through my mind for their On being… potential. 

The truth is, the past month or so I’ve felt on the verge of moving past a season in my life that started long before the winter that is just now giving way to spring. The season I’m talking about probably started with my mom’s death in January 2020. That was quickly followed by Covid lockdowns and social distancing. Then, in October 2020 a long-term contract I had with one company ended and in terms of work, I pretty much went into semi-retirement. And of course, 2021 was pretty much a reprise of 2020 in terms of Covid restrictions and limitations. All these things contributed to – and justified – a season of withdrawal for me.   

But don’t misunderstand. I truly enjoyed not having particular responsibilities or duties these past couple of years. I relished the simplicity of my life and delighted in the fact that most everything I need is within walking distance. I felt lucky that I have a sunny home and a new kitchen with a spacious pantry that allowed me to be creative, regardless of supply chain hiccups at local grocers. Nothing about the past few years was any kind of hardship for me. 

But lately, I’ve started to wonder what happened to the part of me that used to be creative, curious, and interested in doing things. It’s not that I’ve become lazy. I still rise at the crack of dawn and I have no trouble filling my days. I am definitely not bored. But, I feel boring – at least compared to how I used to be. For example, other than talking about world events, I seldom feel I have anything interesting to talk about. Mind you, I’m a good listener and I’ve often felt that some people turn to me to be – and feel – heard. So, I imagine that some friends haven’t even noticed a change in me. But I have. 

In trying to work through all this, I naturally turned to On being…. I figured all I needed to do was find the right word to describe what I’m feeling – the right title – and the spell would be broken and the old me would return. But none of the words that have come to mind – ennui, uninspired, inertia, or even unmotivated – truly describe what I’m struggling with right now. That was its own frustration… 

But, as it happens, writing this column has helped me realize something very useful: words alone won’t re-awaken my curiosity. Indeed, what I now understand is that I need to take my cue from that grizzly. I need to poke my nose out and crawl back into the world. Maybe if I start rooting around, something’ll catch my interest or spark my imagination. Here’s hoping… and here’s to spring! 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


On being … torn apart

By Ingrid Sapona 

On March 8th it was International Women’s Day. Until this year, I saw it as a day to celebrate the achievements women have had in law, politics, business, science, the arts, and so on. In the past, my friends and I marked the day by reflecting on – and being grateful for – the doors that have been open to us largely thanks to the hard work and tenacity of women who came before us. (Of course, it was also a day to reflect on the fact that women are still held back by many doors and ceilings.) 

But this year, I suspect I wasn’t the only person whose focus on March 8th was the plight of women of Ukraine. I try to imagine the stress of air raid sirens going off day and night, or of hiding in a bunker to avoid the bombs and shelling. I also try to imagine the desperation that leads to the decision it is time to flee. Well over 2.5 million at this point have made that decision. And, as we know, the vast majority of them are women and children, as men between the age of 18 and 60 may not leave. 

The bravery and stoicism of these women is remarkable and inspiring. Their whole life has been torn apart. Many of them are leaving their homes – and homeland – with little more than a suitcase or bag of possessions. And of course, they must say goodbye to their husband, brothers, sons, and other loved ones who may be too old to leave. Who knows whether they’ll ever see them again. 

And then there are the many logistical hurdles they have to deal with as they cross into foreign lands. Would you even think to take your passport or your children’s birth certificates? Hopefully they did, as they’ll probably need them if they have to make a refugee application to remain someplace for an extended period. 

On top of the fear and fatigue, they face near total uncertainty. Some of them may have an idea of where they’d like to go, but they don’t know if they’ll be able to get there, or how long they might be able to stay once there. Then there’s the uncertainty of where the basic necessities of daily life for them and their children will come from. Yes, countries, citizens, and aide organizations have rallied to help with much of that, but imagine having to rely on others for everything. 

And, though it’s 2022, the sad reality is that women are especially vulnerability to abuse. With millions of Ukrainian women having to rely others, it seems inevitable that some of them will end up victims of abuse by people who are purportedly helping them. 

Besides families being torn apart, their homes and cities are also being decimated. Seeing news photos of half-standing residential buildings and craters where hospitals once stood, you can’t help but think there won’t be much for them to go back to. It’s hard to imagine where or how they’ll ever be able to rebuild. Of course, those are issues for a much later time. 

Though the lives of Ukrainian women have been centre-most in my thoughts, today’s title isn’t just a reference to the lives being torn apart by the invasion. Russia’s disregard for the rules of war threaten to tear apart the international legal order put in place specifically to safeguard people in times of conflict. Whatever you think of the rules of war, they provide at least a minimal foundation of accountability human beings ought to have toward each other. But, if they are to have any meaning at all, things like rules prohibiting indiscriminate killing of civilians and allowing safe passage of humanitarian aide must be universally upheld. Violations of the rules of war are war crimes that should be of concern to us all. We owe it to the people of Ukraine to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia and its allies and to hold them to account for their crimes. 

What Ukrainians are going through is simply heartbreaking. I pray that long before we mark International Women’s Day 2023, the people of Ukraine will be living in peace once again. I also hope that they will soon be able to channel the strength they have shown in defending their country into rebuilding their lives and homeland instead. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona