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All we have is each other
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All we have is each other

When I started writing this here newsletter envisioning a post-pandemic future — or the ‘next normal’ — back in February, I didn’t think the pandemic would still be roiling at this level in December.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be having major March 2020 anxiety flashbacks.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has made things weird, no doubt about it. Every text chain among friends has been a variation on a theme, and that theme is, “I don’t know how to feel about this right now.” While last week’s news cycle had early 2020 vibes, things are different now — and I’m not just taking about vaccines.

When the pandemic started, it was novel. Not just the virus itself, which we came to know as the “novel coronavirus,” but the whole experience of living through a global pandemic. Things were changing quickly and no one had ever done these things before, not like this.

Thanks to adrenaline, it was easier, then, to be vigilant. For those in lockdown, life in the early pandemic was like being inside your elementary school at night: everything familiar was suddenly strange and different and new.

We didn’t yet have Zoom fatigue, or pandemic fatigue, or decision fatigue. Those not classified as essential workers could throw ourselves into hobbies and self-improvement. Things felt more binary back then; either you were someone who stayed home and complied with public health orders, or you were someone flouting them. We applauded health care workers.

Now, 21 months on, the fatigue is bone deep. Five million people worldwide are dead; 30,000 of them Canadians. The black-and-white clarity of “now is the time to stay home” became more grey with each loosened restriction; the risk calculus kept changing. It keeps changing. Nothing about this is past tense.

Cars lined up along Main Street, Charles St. and in the drive-thru COVID Testing site on Main Street. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

It’s harder to be vigilant. Our brains were simply not built to withstand a constant crisis that still hums in the background even if the world insists it’s over. Even when it looks like it’s over.

It’s safe to say that this winter is going to be another tough one, and will demand more from a population that’s already given — and already lost — so very much. This is a toxic-positivity free zone; you are allowed to feel the dread, anger, frustration and grief of this moment. To feel the fatigue of it.

But there is no way out but through, and we have a responsibility to each other as members of a society — and that includes our government, too. When we talk about a health-care system on the brink of collapse, it’s easy to forget that what we’re really talking about is people on the brink of collapse. We need to believe them when they tell us what it’s like and what they need.

So that’s my holiday message: we need to find a way to take care of each other because in the end, that’s all we have.

There will be dark days ahead, so find the light where and whenever you can. (Personally, I plan to combat my existential dread with Nanaimo bars.) All my best to you and yours this holiday season. NEXT will be back in January.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti, Columnist

Jen Zoratti

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

My goal was to read more than I did last year. In 2020, I read 29 books, and this year I have read... 29 books. But the year is not over! I'm about to crack the spine on Anthony Doerr's 626-page tome Cloud Cuckoo Land, which just came out this year. I quite loved his Pulitzer-winning novel All The Light We Cannot See — a Second World War epic about a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives intersect by incredible chance — so I'm looking forward to getting lost in another story about unlikely paths crossed, this time set in 15th century Constantinople. We'll see if I finish it by 2022.

Best of Reading 2021: The Push, by Ashley Audrain; Fight Night by Miriam Toews; The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

Best of Watching 2021: Hacks (HBO Max), Ted Lasso (Apple TV+), Maid (Netflix)

Best of Listening 2021: 30, by Adele; Inside, by Bo Burnham; Things Take Time, Take Time by Courtney Barnett

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