It’s my party and I’ll find hope if I want to: Reflections on birthday cancelled by COVID-19

What a wild start to the decade. Just three months in, and we’re in a pandemic. I think we’re all still reeling from shock and the stress of it all. And, as our public health officials remind us, we’re just at the beginning.

I’ve had a few near misses with coronavirus. In February, it canceled a work trip to Hong Kong. In March, the same with a trip to Paris in March. How can I complain when I’m lucky enough where I even have a chance to go to these places for work? Each time, I knew days before the event was officially canceled that I wouldn’t be attending. The disappointment slowly settled while I was buoyed by relief. And in the end, I feel grateful for the risk assessment and happy to sit put.

Beyond the canceled events, I’m baffled that I didn’t see this coming. I tracked the virus as the numbers moved skyward in China, and then in Europe, but I still didn’t fully imagine doing the same here at home.

It became very real as COVID-19 canceled my birthday. Well, not entirely. I turned 33 this St. Patrick’s Day. The already low-key dinner date at an Italian restaurant I’ve been wanting to try was nixed as the restaurant, rightly so, has shuttered its doors for the time being. The City of Vancouver, to put a fine point on it, ordered all restaurants and bars in the city to close for St. Patrick’s Day. Sensible, yes, and a marker of the days to come.

As I lamented these wee inconveniences, I recognized how lucky I am to be able to type, healthy, happy, and at a social distance. D and I modified our plans to support another of our fav local pizzerias and clicked glasses at home to another circle around the sun. I chatted with friends and family across the country and city via video, foreshadowing the days to come.

Patio birthday video call
Not a bad spot or a birthday video chat with the famjam.

And in all the doom, gloom, and serious illness, I have found some spots of hope. In my birthday tradition of reflecting on the year, I thought I’d spend some time pondering five bright spots in this strange time:

1. The World Can Move Quickly

While many could argue otherwise given some slow reactions to the pandemic, the global response offers me a sign of hope. I work and advocate for climate action, and have for many years. Over a decade ago (…what a thing to say!), I enjoyed a lecture from Lester R. Brown on his book Plan B at Mount Allison. Then, Brown was presenting a survival strategy for a world facing global warming. His plan was detailed and important, but even in my youthful optimism, I felt doubtful of the scale of the actions he proposed. His answer was to highlight what powerful things we can do when the world sets its mind to it. His proof? World War II. I remember even his phrasing: “the entire world mobilized.” I felt hopeful. If a terrible and divisive event enables the whole world to act, imagine what might happen if the world faced a global environmental event that could have global benefits.

All these years later, I’m just now seeing the urgency in climate action. And simultaneously, we have a global pandemic highlighting the sweeping powers that governments and individuals can have to mobilize towards a global solution. It is possible to get the world to come together for a common cause. It is possible to harness the capacities of industry and of people to achieve a common good. We don’t need to look to the tragic example of World War II for global mobilization. As we start a new decade, news feeds highlight tangible proof of a deeply connected world and a world united to do better. We can help each other through COVID-19. And through this, we will learn that we are one diverse world capable of great things.

2. We need each other

“We’re all in this together – and we will get through this, together” – UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres

It’d be nice if it hadn’t taken a pandemic, but it’s heartwarming to realize how deeply connected we are around the world. And how much we rely on one another. The talk of six degrees of separate feels even smaller when coronavirus has an infection rate of 3x. The world is slowing coming to hunker down at home to protect our communities, both local and global. In an era of individualism, this heightened connectivity is forgotten.

Quiet, beautiful streets of Vancouver
Quiet, beautiful streets of Vancouver

3. It’s quiet

Living in downtown Vancouver, our leaky, single-pane windows allow me to become very aware of the city soundscape. The rumble of motorcycles, screeching of brakes, the wail of a siren, and how the volume rises by a few decibels in the rain. Yet, these past few evenings have been so quiet. The few cars on the road move quietly. There’s no jubilant ruckus of pubs being let out.  The city sounds like a holiday Sunday every day. The quiet is so rare and fleeting. It feels special to experience and savour it.

A notable exception is at 7 PM when Vancouver lets out a wholehearted cheer for our health care workers. I doubt I could hear my neighbours cheering from high-rises two blocks away on an ordinary evening. But on this calm March evening, it rings through in the nicest way.

4. There’s a lot of kindness

“Wash your hands and cancel your plans” – Dan Mangan

As events cancel and businesses close, it seems the whole world has moved online. Artists musicians, personal trainers, coaches, and so many other experts are sharing their talents and skills online.

These efforts have been in support of maintaining connection, donating to charity, or supporting workers who are facing lost wages. Here are a few of my favourite ones coming up:

And the kindness online continues in the many, many video chats (and those yet to come!). There’s such delight in reconnecting with friends and family, celebrating and commiserating, when we’re far apart but home together.

5. What a simple solution (for most of us)

For the vast majority of the world, the answer to this pandemic is shockingly simple: stay home. I started this blog as a tool to search for simplicity in modern life. In an era of busyness, consumerism, and environmental degradation, I felt that there there’s truth to the ‘simplest answer is often the best one.’ Now, we are facing one of the most complex and fast-moving global challenges. Yet, the solution is to spend time at home. Keep a physical distance. Limit outings to essential only. It’s hard to imagine a more straightforward effort. So, whenever you complete that at-home workout, that FaceTime session, that baked good, or that Netflix episode, remember that you’re part of the solution. It’s that simple.

Simple doesn’t always mean easy. For our front line workers in the hospitals and other essential services, this crisis is unimaginably demanding. For everyone cooped up at home, this pattern is unusual and isolating. Everyone needs their own COVID coping mechanisms. If you’re feeling the strains of isolation or overwork, there are lots of valuable resources available, including these from HeretoHelp.

Social distancing means I only have photos of spring flowers and computer screens.

Cheers to Simplicity

As my birthday month wraps up, much has changed since I turned 33. The last days of 32, while physically distanced and uncertain, feel surprisingly free in comparison to my hunkered-down state at 33 and two weeks. Old uncertainties, like whether I should work from home have been swapped out for new uncertainties, like the question of when I’ll ever be able to return to the office. As we all aim to flatten the curve in these strange times, I like to think about the simple things.

What about you? What are your bright spots?


2 thoughts on “It’s my party and I’ll find hope if I want to: Reflections on birthday cancelled by COVID-19

  • April 7, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    Hi there! My daughter feels your pain…I had to cancel her 3 year old birthday party. Talk about heart break! I pray that the world heals through all of this. THank you for your optimism and your positive post.

    • April 7, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      Oh, that is heartbreaking! I hope you got to celebrate in a different-but-just-as-special way. Happy Birthday to your little girl, and hope you all stay well. Thank you for comment, I really appreciate it!

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