My car sits idle in the driveway of my parents’ house, spring pollen coating it undisturbed. I have not left for more than a bike ride since March ground to a halt, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Lucky that I’m not required to risk my life at work. Lucky that losing my part-time job doesn’t land me on the streets, since my parents can support me temporarily. Strangely, lucky that an injury ended my short career as a touring performer months ago, so that I’d already retreated home to regroup before this crisis began. Lucky that no one I know personally has yet caught the virus.
I am desperate to spread my bubble of safety, to help those less lucky than myself, but remain paralyzed by the awareness that I could be carrying COVID19. My mom is a healthcare worker, so everyday the coronavirus has a pathway into our house. Instead of assistance, I could be spreading infection. Without a way to be certain, I stay home, clinging to my guilt-ridden safety, aware that the tiniest twinge in the universe could endanger my mom and put my family in a different position entirely.
Outside my window, the world’s timeline has fractured. All bridges over the swirling chaos of the pandemic began several weeks ago, their hazy structures now barely discernible above us. America has always been the more bombastic sibling, discarding all pretense of equality in the election of Donald Trump. While Canada’s struggles with COVID19 are very real, threatening vulnerable populations, major cities, and my closest friends, America has amplified every aspect of the crisis. The reverberations ripple the air even in my parents’ placid suburban neighbourhood.
Until recently, I lived in Toronto, and I meant to stay there forever. Now my fate seems oddly tied to that of the birth country I thought I had left behind. Almost all of my friends still live in Canada, and in some ways we’re closer now that at any point since I moved away: sharing the mundane struggles of social distancing, inhabiting Zoom as if it were our living room. But increasingly, the numbers show that we are living in two different realities, the borders firmly shut between the country weathering a terrible storm and an empire in what might be its death throes.
Though I’ve never been one to harbour any illusions about the greatness of a country built through slavery on stolen Indigenous land, I fear for America. I lie awake at night thinking about the sheer number of people who will die as our infrastructure fails us, the chaos and danger that might ensue if the government collapses, and the inequities that will sharply worsen as austerity measures follow the huge bailouts. A feel our collective post-Cold War hubris giving way to a chill of panic, our already-precarious hegemony slipping away. The system was always broken, but now it lies shattered on the floor.
Coronavirus is a turning point, a massive boulder colliding with the arc of history and forever altering its path. It cannot change for the better: there is no way to be better off from a pandemic which is causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. However, we have a collective responsibility to do what we can while the future is malleable. Before the dust settles, we must have plans in place to protect each other and the planet and prevent the spread of authoritarianism. If we don’t seize the moment, we can’t be sure who will.
On both sides of the 49th parallel and around the world, this is the crucial time to come together, even as we must physically stay apart. I am thirsty for stories of community strength. Today, Amazon and Instacart workers are striking. People are checking in on their neighbours. Some jurisdictions have enacted rent freezes and other measures to protect the vulnerable. Tiny seeds of progressive change are taking root in the social cracks widened by the pandemic. Together, we can change the current of this pandemic, forcing our way from the whirlpool of destruction into a more compassionate future.