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Writing Our Books in the Shadow of History

For a day that was to become one for the history books, I have to admit that Saturday, April 4th, started out in the slow lane. After rising early, I worked for a couple of hours, pushed through a few loads of laundry, and completed some household tasks that had been glaring at me for weeks from just beyond my field of vision. It wasn’t an especially warm day, but it was kind enough to invite me into the back yard to trim some bushes, rake the garden, and ponder my solution to the fact that grass back there has been refusing to grow so far this year.

My two youngest kids and I had planned a picnic for the early afternoon, and my heart soared as I thought about the prospect. Consigned to the family home as a result of the COVID-19 situation, they have been busy finishing up their respective university courses, and it hasn’t been easy for them. While I’m delighted to have them home, their lives have changed dramatically, and they sense the uneasiness that is swirling in the air around us. With COVID-19 leering at us all from shuttered restaurants and emergency rooms, it’s become apparent to me that we have been diverted onto an unmarked path that leads into an uncharted future.

Life is not going to go back to the way it was.

By the time we venture out into our world again, businesses will have come and gone, new occupations will have been created, and we will all have found more advanced ways to embrace technology. We will become grateful for small blessings, like hugging our friends and going to plays. We will feel nostalgic about some of the old things we used to do and, eventually, if we’re smart about all this, we will feel excited about new things we have now just started to discover.

Have you started to write about all this yet?

We are all poised to record this tumultuous moment in history and if there is a glimmer of an idea in your mind that you might want to write a book someday, this passage in history is quite possibly going to be a key moment in your life. How you react to this, what you noticed, how you were inconvenienced, and what worried you…all of it could very well be a key part of your story. Write it all down!!!

When our phones rattled with the emergency notification advising all Ontario residents to stay home “unless absolutely necessary,” my kids and I were enjoying a peaceful picnic on a hill beside a cemetery. The birds were chirping around us and there was a soft wind playing in the long brown grass beside our picnic blanket. This was the first picnic my daughter’s dog had ever experienced and he was eagerly trying to sniff the packets of sandwiches we had turned out onto the blanket. We were all warm and refreshed, having enjoyed a vigorous walk before settling down to eat.

One of my absolutely favourite things to do is picnic. I have picnicked in big fields with tall grass around me, on rickety logs astride rushing streams, and atop the massive rock of the hard Canadian Shield. I have picnicked sitting at wooden tables, swaying uncertainly in the cockpits of fast-moving boats and perched quite comfortably in the front seats of cars. I have picnicked beside rivers, canals, lakes and oceans. And I have even had a marvellous picnic atop a Roman wall that was scenically located in a vineyard.

But I have never had a picnic where I was made so blatantly aware of how much my world is changing. How much more it could change still. We have closed our schools, workplaces and hair salons. We have stopped spending face-to-face time with cherished friends and family members, and we have postponed trips, weddings, medical appointments, and funerals. This has all happened over the course of a few weeks.

Now, the simple act of keeping people alive is requiring us to stay inside our homes unless we have a compelling reason to go out. Exercise is not compelling enough. Socializing is not compelling enough. Essentially, we are to stay inside unless maintaining life requires us to leave our homes. This was unthinkable just a few short months ago. Our sense of safety has come a long way since then.

Once the sandwiches were gone and the blanket had been tucked away in the backpack again, my kids and I headed home.

A picnic is not an essential outing and so it will be a while before I can sit outside and enjoy a simple meal with people I love. But I’ve captured some of the feelings I have around this moment in time, this moment that has switched us off onto a detour towards a future no one can predict. It might be part of a book someday. And I heartily encourage you, too, to capture some of the moments that are bringing the magnitude of this moment in time home to you. And share them with me, so I can get a peek into the book you, too, may someday write. We are all in this together.

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