I am just coming up to the end of my 9th week of the COVID19 health crisis. I had entered this period believing my days of writing were behind me and that maybe, just maybe, it was time to just give up the fight and let others take up the torch. All indications are not many people didn’t really want to get their hands to close to that flame so maybe it is not time to exit.
After almost nine weeks of isolated reflection I am starting to see cracks in the mirror. If nothing else the COVID19 crisis has forced many people to take a hard look at what is around the community (and in many cases what “isn’t” around). We are in uncertain times for our health care system (#patients4abdocs), our educational sector is under attack and we have a government that doesn’t believe in governance. I guess now is not the time to be giving up activism.
I have been doing my best to avoid as much news as possible which is very difficult when you are a news junkie. Being in the wheelchair doesn’t exactly make “jumping on a bike” and work it off on the bike paths. I can’t exactly do a bunch of home repairs on a one bedroom condo. The weather, although improving (the rain has stopped), hasn’t been all that conducive to going out for a wheel. And even if I could right now there is no place to go. Calgary starts opening up Monday May 25 and I have already booked a haircut for Thursday. A true indication of the depths of boredom is when an old time hippie activist finds the act of a haircut exciting.
When your doctors office starts calling to see if they can e-mail some “Advance Care Planning” documents so they have something on file while finding activities to keep the office busy you start to realize just how bored everyone is becoming. These are things that need to be done but during a pandemic where healthcare facilities are being hyper vigilant about patients coming in you begin to understand just how far we have moved from the old norm.
When you have spend your life in some of the seediest areas of Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and never really felt threatened you would think a “stay home” pandemic order would be a piece of cake. When wearing masks and “social distancing” becomes part of a new norm (BTW Quebec how did that Bill 62 work out for you) you start to think you are on the set for some old western. For the first time in my life I actually feel a tinge of trepidation when the weather does allow me some sun and fresh air time. With that said my last three foray onto the streets for fresh air have resulted into almost epic movie scenes.
Part of the first event was caught on camera by a friend. He had come by and we decided to take a walk and capture some video on how well the Beltline was adhering to social distancing. This was 4:20 on a Sunday afternoon and we were just casually wheeling down 7th Street. My buddy (for the record a Millennial, trying to close that generation gap) stopped me and asked me to wait on that side of the alleyway entry. It had to do with capturing the light of coming out of the shadow and into the sun. He ran over to the other side of the alleyway opening and waved me on. Just as I was hitting the sun all hell broke loose and I found myself wheeling into the middle of a gang shoot out in an alley way (what level of education do you need to realize any good shoot out happens either at high noon or shortly after midnight), what kind of movies are these guys watching?
Anyway I was just starting to wheel across the alleyway curb when the shooting started. Being who I am I stopped to see if I could catch the licence plate off the car the one shooter was leaning over shooting at the guy in the oncoming truck who was shooting back. I’m staring down the alleyway, maybe sixty feet away, looking for that licence plate when my buddy hollered at me (he was already about 45 feet away, always good to know someone has your back) that it sunk in. As I looked at that gun it dawned on me that maybe the licence plate wasn’t that important and all of a sudden I was back at the National Wheelchair Games hauling ass on the track course. We hung around until the cops arrived, gave our statements and, after looking around, realized in the commotion the concept of social distancing quickly became irrelevant so got the hell out of there.
Along came a week of rain so I was in no immediacy to go wheeling. Started catching a bit of the local news just to stay abreast of the pandemic lockdown. If the world is coming to an end I figure my cable will be one of the first things to go, so I’ve paid for it, I’m going to max its use. My computer is WiFi capable and there are cell towers around so I can always use my phone to create a hotspot, data charges be damned. The COVID19 stories I could handle, there was very little that surprised me.
I have a fair idea of the underbelly of social conditions out there so not a lot of surprises. Some disgust, some disappointment and, on occasion, a few tears. I’ve lost a few friends in this time so that was difficult but the reality is when you are heading for 70 years old losing friend to death is a reality, as my brother would say “suck it up princess”. I have more compassion than that but I also understand the reality of a marginalized life. I don’t live in a bubble and when you are already socially isolated by a neglected build environment you have a lot of time to reflect. Accessibility is a concept in Calgary, not a reality. As the sun reappeared and it began to warm I started putting on my mask (bright yellow with some black and white design) to go out to catch a few rays. That’s when the public ignorance really hit home.
I have modified my “social distancing” to expand it to about ten feet. When you are sitting in a wheelchair and someone sneeze in your direction it sink as it settles. That extra four feet makes a difference (at least in my mind) and so physics tells me. On two different occasions, while having a mid-day wheel, I was approached by what I refer to as “brief-case rednecks” who spit on me while blaming the “stupid virus on you cripples”. These weren’t street people, drug addicts or people down on their luck, they were young guys in nice sport coats, I believe, waiting for the day they can put their sheets and pointy hats back on.
Now there was a time in my life when I would have handled this very differently and often involved violence but, as I’ve matured, I now behave in a more civilized manner. I did what a civilized person should do and made the police aware. Regardless I am now a little hesitant about wandering around on my own. I can handle the social isolation that comes with a healthcare crisis but I detest being a prisoner to my own insecurities. That’s state is relatively new to me. I have build my life refusing to be controlled by fear or intimidated by a series of policies designed to catch the deceitful while being presented as well meaning regulations meant to help the marginalized.
However when those policies begin to generate covert support of racism, and not all racism is ethnically focused, by a government that is more than willing to support racist tones then that is not the time for me to check out. I opened this by mentioning “cracks in the mirror”. I can’t sit back anymore and simply accept there is nothing we can do about it as an excuse for the erosion of our democracy. Look in that cracked mirror and see what’s looking back. We, collectively, elected a government and Premier with too many examples of coverts racism in their closets. We stuck our heads in the BBQ pretending to turn the burger while ignoring the facts of seniors being tossed on the street. We busily grab a cold one from the cooler while MLA Drew Barnes evicts a tenant two days after the lapse of the eviction protection expired, this during a healthcare crisis where so many people have been “furloughed” (fancy regurgitation of an old military word). We holler back at the kitchen to put some condiments on the shopping list instead of taking time to research the way the Kenney government is running (or should I say ruining) Alberta right now making it the Old West again. It is not hard to verify Kenney’s thirty years of covert racist behaviour.
So look in that mirror again and say “What can I do about it?”. I would highly recommend you start by developing an understanding of those of who may be different from you. Get to know someone younger, older, of a different culture, of a different gender (regardless of how they identify), of a different socio-economic strata, COMMUNICATE, be a mentor, bring some history to the discussion. We are all PEOPLE, we all have dreams, hopes, values, aspirations, etc. But we are not communicating very well. The best thing that can come from this COVID19 crisis is a “new norm” that we all have to work on to build. Don’t let a history of divisive rhetoric being spewed by a spiteful government continue to drive wedges between us.
So, yes, I am back and I will be keeping myself busy making people aware of what is spin and what is real. Two quick things in closing, kind of a food for thought but when a online petition demanding the province reopen “golf courses” can generate almost 50,000 signatures in less than a week but one asking for support of our frontline healthcare worker flounder with just less than 500 signatures after four weeks that speaks volumes to our priorities. Think about it.
I want to close by acknowledging and congratulating Jason Ribeiro. I met Jason soon after my return to Calgary through social media. He is one of those generational gaps I have been working with. He is passionate about his work and will need to be in light of the current economic challenges created by the COVID19 situation. Almost a week ago he and his wife brought their first child, Matteo, into this madness. I vividly remember the birth of my son and I am always at a loss for words to describe that but congratulations Jason, now you have someone to really fight for so what you are doing today will deeply impact his future. That always changed a persons point of view.
I can’t recall at what point Jason posted the attached screen shot of his tweet but for some reason I belief it was pre-COVID19. With a new norm now on the horizon I am not sure if Jason was being prophetic or sharing a view but it turns out to be very prophetic. So I say to Jason and the economic development sector of the community, we all have to overcome our differences and build on our commonalities.
We all had a role in combatting COVID19, now we have to, collectively, have an active role in the development of “new norms” that will work for the future of the Matteo’s. Don’t let hollow promises and shiny political bobbles get in his way. My regards to your wife and hold the little one tight. Trust me, in the blink of an eye you will be attending his high school graduation.