Thanks to COVID-19, we’re living in conditions that are almost unprecedented for many of us. Large swathes of the globe are living under the types of restrictions that many countries haven’t seen since the Second World War.
Students of history might be seeing additional parallels between the current pandemic and conditions during World War II. They might be calling to mind right now Winston Churchill’s famous line from a speech he delivered to the UK House of Commons in June of 1940, shortly after he became Prime Minister:
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”
Amid the news reports of hoarding and panic-buying, there are also some uplifting examples of people rising to the occasion and showing care and kindness to others.
Allow me to share with you some accounts of what may be some people’s “finest hour”:
The news these days is pretty depressing, isn’t it?
Each day brings reports of the latest closures due to the coronavirus threat. We’re seeing schools shut down, stores and workplaces shuttered, and restrictions on travel and gathering in groups. More and more aspects of our normal lives are being taken away from us.
Feeling discouraged after watching the news on TV yesterday, I went into the kitchen to make dinner. Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw something shiny pass by the window. First one shimmery orb, then dozens whizzed by. I peered out to discover what on earth they were.
What I saw quickly dispelled my negative thoughts:
Thanks to the coronavirus, we’ve all had to learn some new phrases recently. We’re now painfully familiar with terms like COVID-19, “social distancing,” “self-isolation,” and “flatten the curve.”
Social distancing is perhaps the most wrenching new practice many of us have had to adopt. After all, humans are a social species. It’s unnatural for us to avoid contact with other people, and to keep 2 meters away from those we do encounter.
It’s extremely important that we do so right now, but still….it sort of hurts, doesn’t it?
The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.
I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.
Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?
No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.
Last summer, I had an unusual visitor. A lady I didn’t recognize came to my front door and rang the doorbell. I’d never seen her before, but she was clearly from the neighbourhood, as she had come on foot.
She said she had come to apologize to me.
I was mystified. This lady was a total stranger: why would she need to apologize to me?
The Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, and rightly so. Built from white marble, it was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died that year giving birth to their fourteenth child.
For many in India and around the world, the Taj Mahal is an iconic symbol of love. Every stone and jewel used in its construction speaks of the tremendous affection the Shah had for his wife, and his grief at her passing. To many people, the Taj Mahal is the embodiment of love.
Do you enjoy collecting things? Many of us do. Perhaps you collect stamps, vintage baseball cards, Barbie dolls, movie memorabilia, autographs or folk art.
Or maybe your hoard is a little more esoteric. You might specialize in collecting Cracker Jack prizes, Coca-Cola ads, thimbles, snow globes, or vintage fountain pens. These interests may be a bit more off the beaten path, but still within the realms of normal.
But it’s possible that your collection veers into the truly strange and oddball, like the following:
If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.
The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.
But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.
Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?
What’s your astrological sign? Are you a Libra or a Leo? Do you read your horoscope daily and make life decisions based on that advice?
Or maybe you follow Chinese astrology, which is based on the year in which you were born rather than the month. The Chinese are about to celebrate the Lunar New Year, heralding the beginning of the Year of the Rat.
Both of these systems teach that the time cycle in which you were born determines your personality, and to some extent the course of your life. But this might leave you with a sense of being powerless, at the mercy of impersonal forces beyond your control.
Isn’t there something better to help you navigate your way through life?
Sometimes there’s something we want to express, but we can’t seem to find the right term for it. There’s a feeling or situation that we just can’t put into words. Or maybe the precise word doesn’t even exist in English.
On occasion we have to turn to words and phrases in other languages to describe exactly what we’re trying to say. For instance, in English we often borrow the German word “schadenfreude,” which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others”.
Maybe we should consider borrowing a few more foreign words that have no English equivalent. I suggest the following: