Learning to be calm, kind and safe in a ghost town

Barely a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic began when the first case arrived in British Columbia. The restrictions in Canada escalated at a jarringly rapid pace. Coming home to Vancouver in February after four years of university (in the Netherlands and Victoria, B.C.), I returned to my old room in my parents’ house. With loving gratitude to my folks for their continued hospitality, I intended to move out again once I found a job. That didn’t happen once the reality of COVID-19 spread to Canada. Our whole lives were turned upside down and life-plans crumpled as the new reality became clear. My expectations for post-university life were challenged but the changes gave me the opportunity to appreciate family more than ever.

One week in early March, I went out for sushi with a friend. The next week, restaurants were shuttered on orders from Bonnie Henry. Vancouver, the city I was born and grew up in, was a semi-ghost town. Internships I was applying to were cancelled, upcoming concerts were erased from the calendar and trips to Vancouver Island were off the table. We were told to be calm, be kind and be safe, but had no idea for how long. Fortunately, we in British Columbia were never forced to stay indoors like our fellow citizens in Ontario and Quebec. It allowed Vancouverites who ventured out the opportunity to experience a vastly altered city and displayed how COVID-19 had changed our little world.

One could walk in the middle of Seymour Street at 5 p.m. on a Thursday. With barely a car in-sight, it was as safe as it was surreal to stand in the middle of the normally busy road. With the almost deserted downtown, everybody may as well have been dead from the plague anyway. It was pleasantly eerie to walk around the streets of the formerly bustling core with so few cars and even fewer pedestrians. In previous years, what is now called “normality” by the experts, that vacant city centre could only be experienced on Christmas morning for a few short hours per year. It was oddly pleasant, but given the nightmarish economic collapse, joblessness and increase in Canadian poverty that was happening concurrently, this is not a period to look back on too fondly.

I didn’t take CERB; I found work stocking shelves at a supermarket full-time. I moved from my old bedroom to the basement to reduce any chances of infection for my family. In the midst of the pandemic, my parents were calm and safe as well as very kind to me. They let me stay rent-free for months while I saved my pay from work. It was not what I expected for myself, but it was a godsend considering how others have suffered.

Prior to the pandemic, I expected to find an internship, roommates and enter proper adult life. Instead, I worked at a supermarket like when I was a teenager, but I’m grateful. In a horrible world situation, my parents displayed family values in the best possible way. It softened the blow of shattered expectations I had upon finishing university and the personal humbling it caused.

COVID-19 has challenged us all and I count myself among the lucky due to the indebting kindness my parents showed. For those like myself who were lucky to have parents willing to take us back as adults, well-beyond what is expected from any good parent, we have the opportunity to learn. For those of us who were lucky and do become parents, this should never be forgotten. When we all receive the vaccines and “normality” begins to return, being calm and kind especially should not go by the wayside. One headline labelled December, 2020 as the time when the pandemic began to end, one can only hope it ends as soon as possible. When it is over, we also hopefully remain kind, calm and safe in what will be a very different world.