Lately, people have been sharing COVID-related one year anniversaries. Some are sad or downright tragic, others are thought-provoking and some are kinda silly in retrospect.
Mine is probably closest to the third one, with a bit of the second mixed in.
One year ago this past Saturday, March 13th (it was Friday the 13th back in 2020), I started writing an article for this site called Coronavirus for the Jaded. Don’t bother looking for it, it was never published, or finished for that matter.
I had ten paragraphs written but then had to put it on hold because I had plans that night (remember plans?). The next night I had plans, too.
I went to a bar. I didn’t know at the time, but that would be the last time I would set foot in a bar for a year and counting. Yes, bars were open for a brief time during the summer and I did go to a resto bar and sit on a terrace once, but not inside an actual bar.
The day after my last bar visit, Quebec shut down all bars and in the following week would close a bunch more “non-essential” businesses. My day job shut down as well (no, writing for this site isn’t what pays my bills) and the community theatre play I was in was indefinitely postponed all in the following week.
By the time I came back to my article, it was clear that my hot take was now irrelevant. Life had made my point moot.
Incidentally, today, March 15th, is the one year anniversary of the first time we did published an article on the site about COVID. It was a much more informed jump into the subject than my never-published piece would have been.
It’s important to note, as I did in that unpublished piece, that I am in no way a scientist or disease expert. I was coming at the subject as a casual observer.
So what was my angle? Basically that people like me, jaded by hearing about SARS, Swine Flu and other viruses in the media, should maybe take COVID-19 seriously, that it might actually affect things here in a way its predecessors didn’t.
What did it take for me to come to this conclusion? The final straw was finding out, on the 13th, that three stores in my neighborhood were out of toilet paper.
Warning Signs Noted But Not Absorbed
It’s not like there weren’t other warning signs. A month earlier, a friend, I’ll call her Vicky, had told me she was concerned and thought we all should get ready for a lockdown. While I trusted her opinion a great deal at the time and still do, I thought she was overreacting in this particular case.
I remembered SARS. Everyone thought that would be the big one, including the media at the time.
Yes, it was terrible for some in Asia and a part of Toronto, but it was over in a few months. Nothing changed here in Montreal and they didn’t even shut down all of Toronto.
Then, we got a concert with the Rolling Stones and AC/DC to prove it was all in the past. I was at that show, SARS-Stock they (unofficially) called it.
Why would this be any different? That’s what I told Vicky at the time and have since been proven very wrong.
Of course, there were stories of cases here in Quebec and US President Donald Trump was saying that it wouldn’t be a thing (which instinctively makes me think it will be), but I was still unfazed. I even cracked a joke to someone who was taking it more seriously than I was that I wasn’t feeling that well after drinking Corona Beer over the weekend.
Remember when the similarity to a beer name was common humour? Remember when we still called it Coronavirus and not COVID-19? For that matter, remember weekends?
There were clearer signs in the week leading up to my personal realization:
- The World Health Organization had declared COVID a pandemic on the 11th.
- The Quebec banned all gatherings of 250 people or more and Trump barred travel from Europe (except the UK) to the US, and those were both on the 12th.
All of this registered with me, but I still saw these as precautionary measures that would soon be lifted. I was also keenly aware that this site would soon need to start writing about the virus.
We had an op-ed focus early last year and while we did share breaking news stories, like the COVID developments I mentioned above, it was only through social media, from other sources, and without comment. If we had been more hands-on with hard news at the time, as we are now, I probably would have been more intellectually concerned, though I’m still not sure the realization would have hit me personally any sooner (there is sometimes a bit of a disconnect between Jason C. McLean who writes and edits on this site and Jason, the guy who goes out and lives a life).
Now to be clear, I had spent the few weeks leading up to my realization feeling self-conscious every time I coughed or had a runny nose in public. This wasn’t out of actual fear that I may have caught COVID-19, but rather out of fear that people might think, erroneously, that I had.
I had adopted the John Oliver recommendation (at the time) that we didn’t have to run for the hills, but we also shouldn’t start licking the poles in the metro either. I washed my hands after entering people’s homes, but only out of respect for my friends and family’s concerns, not out of any feeling that it was actually needed.
Empathy for Over There
I never doubted for a moment that COVID was real and truly horrible for many people. Of course I also never doubted that tornados and tsunamis were real and truly horrible for many people, just for people somewhere else.
Should we be empathetic towards those people? Of course. Should we do our best to help them, financially or otherwise? Definitely. Should we worry that a tornado will touch down on Sherbrooke Street or a tsunami will wash out all but the Mountain and plan accordingly? Um, no. Why would you suggest that?
It’s not that Montreal doesn’t get its fair share of disasters and tragedies. In my lifetime, we’ve had an ice storm and two school shootings, not to mention the West Island floods every once in a while.
It’s also not like there aren’t deadly viruses that travel. It’s just that there hadn’t been an outbreak here of one in over a century.
A truly global pandemic seemed to me the stuff of movies. Like a zombie apocalypse and about as likely.
Turns out it’s the stuff of wearing a mask everywhere, not hanging out with friends in person and getting what stores you can shop at and when you have to be home from Quebec Premier François Legault via YouTube. Honestly, the end of COVID will be the end of me watching that guy live, hopefully.
So why am I marking the anniversary of starting a post I dodged a credibility bullet by not finishing or publishing a year ago? It’s because it took no toilet paper in the stores in my neighbourhood to realize that COVID-19 was something that could affect my life.
It took something directly tangible for me to personally and emotionally understand something that was already apparent to me intellectually. I don’t think I was the only one.
For some, the realization may have come with a loved one, or themselves, infected with the virus. For others, it might have been losing a job. Fortunately, for me, it was only toilet paper, or the lack thereof.
While it’s unlikely anyone will meh the prospect of another pandemic in the near future, what about other existential threats like Climate Change? While we might intellectually believe that it’s an imminent threat and even try to fight it as best we can, do we really personally fear what might happen to us, or will it take all the polar ice caps actually melting for that to happen?
If you take away anything from this article, take this: Don’t just listen to scientists when shit has already hit the fan, listen to them when they warn of what they think could be on the horizon. The nightmare scenario may not always happen, but now we all know that it just might.
Featured Image by Downpatrick via WikiMedia Commons