No Life Untouched
Reflections on how we’ve coped and what the future holds.
When I wrote my letter for this page in mid-March, I noted our spring issue was a coronavirus-free zone. But very shortly after that, there was no such thing. No life has been untouched.
In that letter, I also expressed hope that our rural region would be spared the most tragic consequences of the virus. And in many ways we have – at least so far – experienced proportionately fewer cases and deaths than so many other places, but that’s cold comfort for those among us who have fallen ill or lost a loved one. And our community was not exempt from the virus’s most devastating scourge – the tragedy that has unfolded in long-term care homes. As of this writing, of the 26 lives lost to Covid-19 in Dufferin and Caledon, 18 were at the Shelburne Residence, nearly a third of the residents there. Across Canada, about 80 per cent, or more than 6,000, of Covid-19-related deaths took place in such residences. Of all the terrible social and economic fault lines revealed by this pandemic, surely the most demanding of immediate action are those in our grievously inadequate long-term care system.
And not just for the sake of the elderly and vulnerable residents who depend on that system, but also for the staff who care for them, along with so many other undervalued wage-earners – the supermarket clerks, the fast-food servers, the couriers and seasonal farm workers, among others. They were suddenly deemed “essential” and are, in fact, just that. But their voices are among the least heard. For the Pandemic Journals in this issue, one young chain store clerk shared her story about the fear and pride she felt in going to work, and the good and bad she witnessed among her customers. But she was reprimanded by her employer for speaking out and had to withdraw her story or risk losing her job. Like so many others, she continued to show up while many of us were cleaning our pantries and baking bread. Without them, we wouldn’t be making it through.
But, of course, there have been other, much happier revelations from this pandemic. Not the least are the daily reminders of the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. And for the most part it’s those stories of generosity, grace and gratitude we’re celebrating in these pages.
Even so, just as the world convulsed as we put our spring issue to bed, it has heaved again as our summer issue goes to press. This time the death of a black man at the hands of police in the United States has launched “a great social reckoning,” as Shelburne mayor Wade Mills described it when his town joined worldwide anti-racism demonstrations, “a reckoning that has been in the making for 400 years, one that has finally grown tired of waiting.” And so for all its challenges, perhaps when the history of this extraordinary year is written, 2020 may be most remembered as the year we finally began to get it right.
Shelburne’s mayor reflects on both the tragedy that gripped his town and the compassion it inspired.