winter solstice, COVID mutation, and numbness – part two: the emergence of em·pa·thy (ˈempəTHē)

Today is the shortest day of the year as Winter Solstice arrived at 3:02 am. My mind is turning to a very much needed break, albeit one that will be very much different from the Christmases and New Years I’ve experienced before. Winter Solstice might just be my second favourite day of the year, because with its arrival the darkness of night slowly gives way to day, until the arrival of what actually is my favourite day of the year, Summer Solstice.

I awoke to word coming from the UK about a variant of SARS-CoV-2, a strain identified as B.1.1.7, that appears to be ‘more adept at human-to-human transmission’ , with other reports saying it is as much as 70% more effective (yikes!). The article, found here, indicates it has yet to be determined if the new vaccines will be still be effective against it, or if the strain is also more harmful, but notes that and the virus ‘has acquired 17 mutations all at once’. I’m not going to speculate at this point, and I’ll leave it to minds smarter than mine to make the determination on what this latest development actually means for humanity, now nearing 10 months of COVID-19 initiated isolation. Whatever the case, it appears international travel out of the UK via train or airplane has been banned for 48 hours to allow scientists to answer those questions.

A small, pessimistic and skeptical voice (nope this isn’t enhanced state paranoia) in me thinks this is an attempt to convince the undecided or uncommitted that social distancing is indeed truly important if we’re going to show this unwanted reminder of 2020 who is boss. Thankfully it appears that once again social distancing is working as we’d been told it would. Daily case reports are indicating that the model which had projected 2000 cases a day in Alberta by Christmas, is now falling short of those numbers, with our Chief Medical Officer of Health indicating that Alberta has now entered into a plateau, but has not yet bent the curve downwards.  This shows me that isolation-tight, and a COVID Christmas is worth the sacrifice; hopefully the planned field hospitals become nothing more than a precaution and will never see a patient.

If I needed a reminder of how important social distancing is (and I didn’t, thanks) a coworker of mine recently tested positive for COVID-19. My colleague says it’s a mystery to them how she and her husband became infected, as beyond short trips for groceries they’ve maintained isolation, that is to say, they, the adults of the household, maintained isolation. My co-worker can imagine no other explanation for their contracting the virus than that they became infected via their children, who they speculate had become infected at school, but remained asymptomatic, and provided further evidence that children truly are evil beings (sarcasm? maybe, maybe not).

With the onset of Wave 2, it feels as though my focus for the blog has been more on The Now then on the dramatic effects of The Pause had on my health during the first wave, so I’ll return to the theme of numbness – part one, with the remainder of this post acting as part two.

Thanks to The Pause, and the introduction of THC into my life, the involuntary numbness I experienced every day started to fade as I now had the ability to feel and to understand on a deeper level any time I felt the need (oh and could freely indulge at socially acceptable times).

apparently I do have it, it just needed a trigger to allow it to be found

This summer, thanks to The Pause, I started to realize that life didn’t have to be lived numb. A good friend asked of me one glorious summer evening, while I was enhanced, and we gathered with our partners by his backyard fire pit, ‘have you ever thought ‘what’s his story?‘ in regard to a stranger met through a random encounter.  I have to admit, that in the moment I was taken back as I realized that no, I really didn’t think about or appreciate the stories behind others all that much. I guilty recalled situations where people had tried to share their stories, and I found my mind drifting from their words to other random thoughts running my mind as they spoke.

For this to make sense (hopefully), I need to share some relevant history as it does explain what I came to be during The Boil, but had it’s start much earlier. I am an only child and in my childhood I was never particularly popular in school as I was fairly nerdy (long before it was cool) with a stereotypical lack of a sporting bone to be found in my body and an awkwardness that lasted throughout my elementary and junior high years.  I was placed into classes for gifted children/teens due to my once voracious reading habits and my early emerging ability to write.  As I write now and reflect, I think that perhaps this played a role in why I dropped out of high school (more than once, so at the very least it could be said that I was persistent), I never felt welcome, and as I lacked confidence, I became an easy target to pick on.  Without a father figure present in my home for much of my formative years and as my mother was an admitted pacifist, I was never taught to stand up to the bullying behaviours being directed to me, or to report them. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to understand the impact of the bullies’ actions had on my life. I share this not looking for sympathy for a rotten childhood, because overall it really wasn’t, but the bullying helped shaped me for the good and the bad.

I don’t blame the bullies for their behaviour, they were children too, products of their own households and upbringing and in the moment they likely didn’t appreciate the impact that they had on me. Because of their actions, I didn’t feel safe and whenever I moved with a parent and was introduced into a new school, I was slow to integrate having learned to not immediately trust anyone.   The walls that started to isolate me started going up pre-Boil and made it difficult for people to get through to me to hurt me, or befriend me.

In The Boil, I allowed relationships to fade away as physical distances grew and time separated me from those I once had shared some meaningful moments with. To me this was part of the circle of life: I met people who played an important role in my life for three to five years, and then for any number of reasons, we would grow distant and move on from a place of friendship to that of acquaintance. Bullying had started the numbing and made it difficult for me to be empathic or to appreciate the benefits and bonds of a healthy friendships.  The Boil made the numbing worse, as the dog eat dog world had made me self-centered and unable or unwilling to connect.

During The Pause, with in person contact limited, I could no longer take my connections for granted, and I at long last came to realize the importance of friendship. My small circle was no longer comprised of individuals I came to know by chance and only for a moment (long or short) in time, but was now comprised of co-passengers in our journey through life, and that we owed it to each other to put effort into being supportive of each other, even when sometimes the things they say or do don’t make reasonable or logical sense.  People are flawed, it’s part of our nature, (maybe even part of our individual charm) but at the very heart of us, what we have in common is that we want is to find happiness in whatever form it takes, no matter however elusive or fleeting it can be.

To me, this was a major change, and obviously one that I should have acted on sooner, but the procrastinator in me never made it a priority, and I hadn’t yet come to truly appreciate that the game of life is one we only get to play once. I now find myself spending more time thinking about how my words and actions might be impacting others, or trying to imagine how I might respond to the challenges they were facing in their life, and how the lessons in their life had shaped them.

It was always there, I just didn’t have the ability to see below the surface, and therefore my comprehension was superficial and unimpassioned. That’s over now, I’ve seen the light, been given a second chance to become a true friend, partner, and co-passenger in life’s journey.

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