Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Spring Brings Ray of Hope in COVID-19 Battle

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 12 / 21

Zack Gross

A few months ago, back in December, I wrote about the walks my wife and I take every day, about six kilometres through our neighbourhood and along a nearby lake.  We started doing this as part of my post-surgical rehabilitation after receiving a new aortic valve sixteen months ago.  First it was a two-block walk, then stretched to four, and incrementally more until reaching our current 6K average.  Aside from the physical benefits of exercise, we also got to know many of our neighbours, despite COVID, by having distanced chats with them along the road, or from street to yard.

We’ve lived in our area for many years but, due to our hectic work schedules, really didn’t get to know many people.  Nor did we fully realize the many beautiful natural features of our area.  This is probably true of many people who, in working a job or two, raising children, and taking care of many other obligations, become blind to anything outside their schedule.  I knew that the people next door were nice and friendly, but wasn’t sure of their names.  I heard that a local restaurant had great food, but had never gone there to eat.  I was told about a great local group, but had never found the time or energy to attend a meeting.

Not only do we enjoy the sociability of connecting with local people, we also find it an interesting study to learn what they find of interest, and what challenges they face. People in our area make up one of the oldest groups of population in the province.  There are lots of seniors who have retired to cottage country and many spend a part of the year as snowbirds, traveling down to Texas, Mexico and other warm places.

COVID quashed people’s usual travel plans and one situation we ran into was a local woman bitterly telling her neighbour about how she hadn’t celebrated Christmas in Canada for twenty years and was having to cobble together ornaments and find a tree to put up in her home.  We felt some sympathy, but mostly thought this lady didn’t realize how privileged she is.  Others told us about the cruises, visits to far-away children and other journeys they had put on hold.  I’m not sure that you’ll ever find me on a cruise, but we do miss our children who are living mostly far away and are only accessible via Zoom.

Pets and bird watching are a big part of seniors’ lives.  Most people we meet on our walks are leading, or being led by, a dog.  My wife dutifully lists people’s and pets’ names in her phone, so that we don’t embarrass ourselves the next time we encounter them.  Almost all dog (and people) are friendly, and yards with “guard dogs” are given a wide berth and not appreciated.  Walkers exchange information on what birds they’ve seen and where they can be found.  A big deal is a particular set of yards that are home to cardinals.  This attraction is a source of pride for the home-owners that this lovely bird has chosen to live with them!

As spring arrives, our area hosts a large migration of eagles, most on their way further north.  Certain large trees in the area fill up with eagles at dusk and dawn and attract local folks with cameras.  Cranes and swans are also appreciated, but crows and magpies not so much.  As the ice on the lake melts and the fishing shacks are removed, the promise of another summer becomes a hot topic.  We promise one another that, after our COVID vaccinations are complete, we’ll be able to sit together again for a beer or coffee on the deck.  One couple asked us what kind of wine we like!  Another set a date of July 1st.

For seniors, missing children and grandchildren, finding the medical system overbooked or inaccessible, and having to avoid in-person shopping are big issues. Many look forward to the day when they can visit a favourite restaurant again, take in a concert or play, or shop without feeling vulnerable.  For anyone outside Winnipeg, being able to access entertainment virtually has been okay too – a time and money-saver.

There are lots of negatives to experiencing a pandemic, but hopefully there are stories of kindness and connection that are a product of our past difficult year.  Maybe it’s having a common problem that we all have to deal with.  Maybe it’s letting our guard slip a bit, and telling our neighbour how we are feeling, rather than just saying hello.  Time will tell if new COVID-fueled friendships will survive our return to “normalcy
.”  We’ll be making an effort to keep those relationships alive!

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project and an active senior citizen.

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