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OPINION: COVID-19 – Reflecting on the words of Robert Frost

BY TERESA MALLAM

Special to the News

At times like this, in the throes of a pandemic (not that I’ve ever been through one like this), and while trying, along with many others, to “flatten the curve,” I try very hard to keep a sense of purpose, a sense of balance and a sense of humour.

COVID-19 is serious stuff and taking in regular updates and keeping informed is important. Left unchecked, however, it can lead to information overload. Fortunately, there is a cure: Limit exposure.

So lately I’ve been limiting my news feeds mostly to CBC Radio, despite the fact they have centralized their news and yanked back regular local programs — really miss Betsy (Trumpeter) and Wil (Fundal) though they file stories.

This means, every morning, regular as clockwork and coffee, I listen to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s daily address to the nation. And I do this with the same dutiful attention that I once gave to the Queen’s Christmas Greetings.

Now that Meghan, Harry and Archie have flown the royal coop, and with Prince Andrew in hot water, hearing about yet another “Annus Horribilis” from HRM Queen Elizabeth II will be dreadful.

So I look forward to Mr.Trudeau’s daily address as ‘easy listening’ despite the sombre subject matter.

I say this because when I first started in news reporting, decades ago, my editor told me to “write for a Grade 9 level … then subtract a year.” That struck me as arrogant and now, with all kinds of people reporting the news, much of it accurately, we know that his advice was mean-spirited and misguided.

But I write for grown-ups.

Mr. Trudeau speaks in a carefully controlled “inside voice,” likely drawing on his teaching skills. He rarely raises his voice, unless it  appears that we are not paying attention (to things like social distancing.) He also doesn’t give us too much information or go into a lot of details that will probably only confuse and confound us.

That he leaves to people like health minister Adrian Dix who have the facts and figures. And I’m OK with that, because no one expects Mr. Trudeau to emerge daily from self-isolation, clean-shaven and bursting forth with some sort of loud and eloquent Churchill/Hoover wartime speech.

That brings me to the wise words of a great writer, Robert Frost, in his very long poem The Death of a Hired Man. Written in 1905, it was published in 1914, circa First World War. And, no, I didn’t just have that at the ready, I had to look it up.

To set the scene, old Silas has returned to the home of his former employer, defeated and seemingly ready to die. These lines are said in hushed conversation about Silas’s plight:

“And nothing to look forward to with hope,

And nothing to look backward to with pride.”

My remembering this, just now, can be credited to Uma Parameswaran, my Creative Writing professor at Carleton U. Strange how a deadly virus can conjure up good memories of a truly great teacher.

But back to the writings of Robert Frost.

The hope in all this would be, that we don’t ever see a COVID-20.

The pride would be that we can look back on these months, hopefully soon, and be able to reflect upon how well we mortals, the media, the medical community and our political leaders, responded to this horrible event in our history.

Certain that we did our level best, we gave it everything we had, we did all that we could do and all we were told to do. Social distancing, self-isolating. The whole thing.

Tell that to the stock market, real estate market, even the farmer’s market, that will be recovering long past those stricken with COVID-19. Poems and platitudes likely won’t do it for them.

I understand that.

Still, we will all have to recover from this in our own timeline and unique way, taking into account our own set of circumstances. One thing is for sure, getting back our lives won’t be a walk in the park … well, it will be for me because after being inside so much, I will need lots of fresh air.

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