Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Alice, wise woman arriving, closes her eyes and smiles. “This is a new memory,” she says.
And thus the afternoon begins. Alice drowses, Julie paces, Tim alternately enthuses and falls silent, and Theo twitches, his eyes on the lake. He longs to be on the lake, for there he will see her. She will shine, and she will be singing.
The silences in the campsite grow, and finally they simply are—feeling the moment, savouring it, not looking back, not looking ahead. It is not a return to Kedge times, it is the arrival of something new, perhaps unexpected. Something surprising and necessary.
-A Canoer of Shorelines, p. 297
In the novel, the Martins come together for a special family camping trip. They share this time in hope, but a shadow still hovers over their future. As they go through the motions, it is not the settings or the foods or the actions that hold them. It is the sharing of one another’s presence. This is a gift.
Summer is approaching. The Third Wave of the CoVid pandemic appears to be receding. We are eager to reclaim the elusive normal. We are tired of living in the shadows; we want to get out there and have fun.
We have earned it, surely.
The restrictions that have governed our lives are relaxing. It is time to prove that we are comfortable and not “nervous of CoVid.” We want to gobble ice cream in a food court with all our friends, twirling our masks and laughing. We want to roam across borders for the pure exhilaration of crossing. The world is ours, and we revel in our freedom.
I listen to the radio, and only one death is announced. This is progress. Only one is dead. We can accept one. Most of us are still here. At first, I am relieved.
Then I am not.
I see an older couple, perhaps reclining on deck chairs as the lake breeze fans the flies away. I like to think that he turns to her, a gentle smile in his eyes as he touches her hand. The summer has passed too suddenly, and the lake is fading into memory. “Next summer,” they vow. “Next summer it will be our time again.”
Perhaps they have passed a quiet late winter evening reviewing old albums, recalling the times when they and their family were young and the lake was all in all to them. Next summer, they promise, they will walk in those memories, and it will be sweet.
I do not know how it begins – perhaps a little fever, a general feeling that something is misplaced in the body. Soon it is a trip to the hospital, a precaution, and soon again it has passed. They will be home in a few days, and summer is coming. The lake calls.
I do not know how it ends, or why. Perhaps it is the virus, perhaps something that came after, but now one person is gone. The other will sit alone on a deck chair, the hand empty. There is no “only” when the one death comes. It invades that family, and it impacts the world.
On the James Bay coast, the pandemic has burst upon the world. Cases mount and escalate, but this is not 1918, and this is not the Spanish flu, and we know so much more, so why are people still sick? Are they not trying hard enough? we wonder. Don’t they know enough to sanitize and social distance and wash all points of contact?
They do. What they need is opportunity. One cannot sanitize when the water is dirty. One cannot social distance when one has no space.
When health has been compromised over the generations by the impacts of colonization, and when people are packed into substandard housing with their health weakened on so many levels, without clean water and sanitation, sickness tends to spread. It is real. It is immediate. It is a call to action.
Elsewhere in the world, the flames also spread. If we travel into the world, perhaps we will bear witness to people who would love to have a sheltered life, enough space to social distance, and doorknobs to scrub. Their pandemic is not over, and I doubt that they are excited this day. Millions of people are grieving the death of someone, someone who was their life.
So I must take note of that, and cherish each person who touches my life, because we share the world. I have a responsibility to each person who touches my life, and that includes everyone. in the world. Every moment touches everyone. Every death, everywhere, touches me.
To be still, and listen to the life of all creation, is a gift. To feel the grief and the joy of the earth, in all its little moments, is a rare thing. It is not something we work for, but something which might come upon us – a moment surprising, and necessary.
And then we can begin.