By Joyce Wayne
Do you ever wake up in the morning after dreaming a recurring and disturbing dream, as I do? I won’t call it a nightmare because my recurring dream isn’t that menacing. It’s more as if I’m a character in a Russian novel, the lone woman trudging through the snow, trying to escape the forces of mayhem and discord.
It could be that the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan prompted my dream this time. For people my age, it brought memories of the helicopter airlift from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon back in 1975. Both Kabul and Saigon are potent symbols of how impossible it is to remake one society in the mirror image of another, no matter what the cause, and how the people left behind could suffer.
My dream is made of much smaller stuff than foreign wars, yet it is based on fact rather than fiction. In 1970 when I first moved to Ottawa from Windsor, I wasn’t prepared for the winter weather, how quickly the temperature dropped below zero, how fast and hard the snow fell until the streets were impassable. I had no idea how one must dress accordingly for an Ottawa blizzard.
It was January, and I was a student renting a tiny second-floor apartment above a corner grocery store, less than a block away from the Rideau Canal. Between the two of us, my roommate and I paid $70.00 a month for rent. That included heat and hydro. We installed a black wall-mounted dial phone, and since the Internet hadn’t been invented, we were not weighed down by other media costs. We didn’t even own a television. CBC radio provided us with news and entertainment. Peter Gzowski’s “This Country in the Morning” was de rigour. Books and vinyl records piled high on homemade bricks and board shelves were all we needed.
While attending an evening class at Carleton University, it began to snow: plump, heavy snowflakes rapidly accumulated on the frozen ground. After class, I boarded the city bus that crossed the Canal. In the lamp-lit night, the snow continued to fall. I decided to navigate a route across a football field rather than follow the uncleared sidewalks. It was a big mistake.
Halfway across the field, I got stuck. The snow was so high it rose well above my knees. I wasn’t appropriately dressed. In boots with heels and a light wool coat that sufficed in Windsor, I was freezing in the nation’s capital. What to do? The temperature was dropping. I could turn back or plow on in the hope of making it to the other side of the field and onto the little street where I lived.
It is at that point that my dream ends. For fifty years, I’ve dreamed the same dream whenever the road ahead looks unsettled or frightening. That night in Ottawa, I did, of course, make it across the field. When I got home, I ran a lukewarm bath that comforted my frostbitten fingers and toes. The next day, I bought a proper pair of sturdy –and unfashionable– winter boots, hockey socks and thermal gloves. I learned to layer my clothes under a thickly padded parka, as wise people did in Ottawa. Long johns were a necessary component of this outfit.
During the years I lived in Ottawa, I grew to enjoy the winter weather: the stark cold, the glistening white snow, the daylight sky so blue and clear I felt I could see the Arctic air rushing down from the north.
How to Survive the Next Wave of COVID or the Delta variant?
Today I worry about other things. Not how I’m going to make it through the snow. Instead, how we’re going to get through another fall and winter of COVID. Even for the double vaccinated, the Delta variant poses some danger. Without vaccination, the chance of contracting the virus is growing. Although I prefer to write about active ways to plow through the loneliness and isolation of this strange moment in time, there is a part of my mind stuck on that snowy field in winter, frightened that I won’t make it to the other side. As the Italian author Natalia Ginzburg writes, the pessimistic me can give in to “the temptation to let her life go to pieces.”
Ginzburg writes about the friend with whom she is sharing a flat during World War II. Still, I believe she reveals her other self when she says, “Now and again, my friend says that she is fed up with working and wants to let her life go to pieces. She wants to shut herself in some filthy bar and drink all her savings, or she will just stay in bed and think of nothing and leave everything to drift, and let them come and cut off the gas and the light.”
COVID-19 – One of The Hardest Times In Modern History
Am I being dramatic? We are not fighting a war. Or are we? How the international community will defeat the variants of COVID-19 is not yet established. When historians look back on this period, possibly one of the strangest in modern times, how will they describe the ways we managed, kept up our spirits, bravely sent our children to school, earned a living, paid the bills and kept connected to our families and friends?
Each of us is writing our own story these days. Figuring out how to fight the urge “to let life go to pieces.” When I wake from my recurring snow dream, I’m always elated that I’m safe in my comfortable bed, warm and protected, the covers tightly wrapped around me, expecting to begin each new day filled with both joy and sadness.