The news just came out yesterday in Ontario that, after March break ends next week, there will be two more weeks of school shutdown in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. This makes good sense. Schools are places where social distancing is just not possible – it’s a crowd situation every day. So the decision to follow the advice of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is probably the best one this government has made so far. (Perhaps next Ford will follow the advice of other trained professionals, who knows? We can dream.)
This is happening while basically all of Italy is shut down, travel bans are popping up all over the world, the stock market is plummeting, and China has used massive quarantine measures to claw its way to the downward curve of the disease’s exponential growth in that country.
It is overshadowing stuff like railway roadblocks and oil price plunges and educators’ strikes – not to mention Democratic primaries and Harvey Weinstein going to jail and all kinds of other stuff that is important… until you compare it to the prospect of having to cooperate with the entire world. Even the climate emergency hasn’t spurred the species like this one virus has.
So that’s it. I’m calling it. We’re officially in trouble. We have arrived at the precipice, and now we are the special humans who get to witness the transformation of our society as we know it. I say this because, from my vantage point, this transformation has already started.
I’m not saying that our species is doomed. I’m confident that we’ll make it through this. And the planet will bounce back, as she always does. But Mother Earth is showing us that we’ve gone too far, and now we have to face some serious consequences. Some of us have been getting off scot-free this whole time, but she is going to make ALL of us sit up and shape up.
Go be by yourself and think about what you’ve done.
We have earned this punishment. I think most of us believe that we’re good people, but let’s face it: as a group, we have not been responsible.
You know how we’ve been hearing many young people, frustrated by climate change, saying to older people, “Stop stealing our future!!” Well, that is how I felt as a 10-year-old. I knew that we were screwing things up, and most of the world seemed not to notice. I was frustrated then, and I’m still angry now. So many people have treated this planet and the creatures on it – including each other, and even ourselves – as expendable and basically worthless.
Our track record is one of carelessness: dirtying our habitats, overusing our resources, and treating each other like crap even when we know better. Oh, and filling our bodies with junk. (Seriously, beyond this virus business, I believe that humans have never been sicker. Mental illness alone is a plague.) And now, I believe, all of us alive at this moment are going to participate in major shifts in the ways that we live our lives. I may be past forty, but it’s my future too, and I still care about it.
To be honest, there’s a part of me that finds all this rather fascinating, wondering how we’re going to manage. “IN A WORLD… Where humanity has lost its way… And everything is at stake… WHAT WILL THEY DO??” Will we finally use our considerable ingenuity to find ways of turning our worst problems upside-down? Will we simply descend into the abyss on the spiralling waterslide that is denial? Will it be a conscious redesign of society, or a simple unravelling? Will it come down to a matter of our attitudes?
Maybe this is exactly the kick in the pants we need. Look at how carbon emissions have plunged in the places under quarantine. Nothing else EVER since the Industrial Revolution has forced us to prove that we can make carbon emissions plunge, but look! We CAN. When people cooperate (even if that’s just out of fear of death), amazing things can happen.
Consider for a moment the fact that every single one of us is descended from the original life forms on this planet. In primordial terms, we are all literally related. It’s time to treat humanity as the family it is – right now and in general. We need to be open-minded and open-hearted – even while we are closed-doored. I think that will be the deciding factor in whether our transformation is beautiful or terrible.
Here in Ontario – and everywhere, I guess – we are being bombarded with advice about how to avoid transmitting the virus. And we are also told that there is no treatment for the disease itself – only for the symptoms. A vaccine is probably a year away. And the most at-risk populations are, of course, those with pre-existing risk factors.
We have been told that if we’re relatively young and healthy, we’ll most likely be fine. But I love a lot of people with other risk factors, including age. It’s very likely that our medical system in Canada, which normally runs more or less at capacity, will be overburdened by this at some point – maybe for a long time. So is there anything that an at-risk person can do to avoid the dying part?
Here is the one actual piece of advice I have about resisting disease.
Sean and I have done oodles of research about risk factors in the past three years, since he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. We always end up at the same information about how to decrease all-cause mortality – and especially in relation to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer – and even certain respiratory conditions asthma (and countless other health issues). It’s EATING PLANTS.
The further you can tip your dietary balance away from animal products and toward plants, the lower these risks get. Study after study after study corroborates this. (It’s also all laid out in How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger, and The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall. Not to mention the documentaries “Forks Over Knives” and “What the Health.”)
Like Mom said, eat your veggies. Like school kids have said for years, beans, beans, they actually ARE super-good for your heart. (And in reality, the more you eat, the less you fart, because your body gets used to processing them.)
*It may also be worth mentioning at this point that many diseases, including bird flu, swine flu, salmonella, E. coli, mad cow, and COVID-19, have been given their start (and opportunities to thrive) by the unsafe and unsanitary – and frankly monstrous – conditions in animal factory farming. We may think that’s China’s problem (and when it comes to wild animal farming, it might be), but factory farming is everywhere. I have always tried hard not to push my vegetarian perspective on others, but for many humans (and all the animals involved), we’re talking literally life or death here.*
That sums up the best advice I’ve read for humans most at risk of dying from the novel coronavirus. I am not a medical expert, but I want you to live!
I have one more piece of advice, and this one’s for ALL the people: humility.
It sounds like kind of an old-fashioned concept these days, what with “me” culture being so prevalent. But growing up Quaker, it was just part of life – don’t take more than you need, look out for the people around you, withhold judgment, be generous with compassion, don’t be arrogant. Your life is valuable, and so is everyone else’s.
In reading about the Seven Sacred Teachings (or Grandfather Teachings) that are common across many First Nations, Métis and Inuit societies, I always latched onto the idea of Humility being represented by the wolf. I don’t have expert knowledge of these deep teachings, but I relate to humility as knowing your role as part of a pack. Recognizing that, while you are a sacred and important part of the whole, you are no more important than the other sacred parts.
By this token, you are no more or less important than the city bus driver, the cashier at the supermarket, or the kid selling popcorn at the movies. You are no more or less important than an NBA star, an Oscar-winning actor, or the Prime Minister’s wife.
If we are being humble, we are treating handwashing as a service to humanity. We are being vigilant about symptoms for the sake of everybody’s families, especially their elders. We can sagely understand why we must stay away from crowded events. We are not price-gouging people for hand sanitizer, and we are not taking all the toilet paper. (Plus that is just a weird strategy to begin with.)
Humility may become even more difficult in the near future. If or when Canada’s hospitals become overburdened like Italy’s, we will have to trust the medical professionals to decide who gets help when. They are the ones with the big picture. They make very difficult decisions with the best of their knowledge, and they will already be making untold sacrifices to help other humans. We will need to be humble about our places in that situation. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but it will be necessary.
In the meantime, we also need to listen respectfully to – and follow – the advice of medical experts about what to do as we make our way through this. And if that advice changes daily, so be it.
It’s an extraordinary time. Just like during wildfires and floods, but worldwide and simultaneously, we are putting aside our normal priorities. Cancelling everything from sports to parliament, and getting down to the nitty-gritty of our humanness. Where I live, traffic is already noticeably less. People are looking at what to do with themselves and their families, with social distancing – how best to spend time with the small groups that they can.
Let’s read stories, take walks, draw pictures, cook food, get lots of sleep, and stay in touch. When things get really rough, I hope that we, like folks in Wuhan and Italy, will end up singing.