The Humanity of Fear

Spring-like weather has finally hit our fair province and it has everyone feeling a little giddy.  The entire month of April has been fraught with rain, drizzle, and fog. A bit of sunshine rips through the heavens and everyone is out raking lawns and arranging the patio furniture. I participated in said frivolity against my better judgement. May 24th has not arrived which usually brings an extreme dip in the temperature and a mini version of Snowmaggedon.  I’m happy with the sunshine and the above freezing temps, but still anticipate donning my parka and wading through waist deep ice crystals by the time June rolls around.  We remain ever hopeful of Winter’s demise, but we know better. Our shovels stand at the ready in porches, and our snow blowers continue to remain on active duty until, well, always.

The lockdowns and restrictions continue as the plague rages on, ravaging through communities and ICUs with a vengeance rivaled only by that of an Australian wildfire. We are shielded here, to some degree, from the overwhelming contagion that has infiltrated Ontario and other more western provinces, but we continue to remain cautious. We listen to Health authorities. We understand the COVID fatigue. It’s getting harder and harder to remain isolated from the ones we love and remain six feet from embracing our friends and families, but for their sakes we take a step back.

I felt the first impact from COVID on a simple trip to the grocery store, last year. It turned out it was more complicated than I had expected. Line-ups, directional arrows, do I bring my own bags?  No browsing, get what you need and get out.  I remember walking into the store, and everyone was wearing a mask. It wasn’t Halloween and it wasn’t funny. The fear of talking to each other was palpable. No one dared approach someone or invade their personal space lest you risk the onslaught of public scorn and the attack of a deadly disease. I hated it. I sat in my car and cried. This wasn’t the community in which I had lived for sixteen years. This wasn’t how we existed. We were a chatty, friendly, hospitable bunch. We helped each other with the carts that stubbornly stuck together. We said a friendly ‘hello’ and shook hands without fear of catching something. We reached out to pat someone on the back or give someone we haven’t seen in a while a hearty hug. Remember those?  Hugs?  This disease has taken lives, but it has also taken our humanity. That’s the worst part. People are too afraid to reach out and care. Too afraid to be kind. It may cost someone his life to shake your hand. Facial expressions are hard to read behind a mask. Is she smiling? Is she frowning? I can’t tell. The emotional connection between strangers is lost in the hazy fear of catching a deadly disease. And it’s heartbreakingly necessary.

Normal, whatever that may look like in the future, will return slowly. We will again be able to be with family and reunite with more friends, but we will always remain wary. That little voice warning us to stand a little farther apart, to keep our hands to ourselves, to wash and sanitize at every turn will be forever yelling at us. Years ago, the biggest threat to kids going to school was head lice. “Don’t share hats,” the teachers and parents had warned. “Don’t share your combs or hairbrushes. Keep your hands to yourselves. Stay apart from each other. Don’t share locker space.” It’s now a common practice to stay apart, not so much for the sake of head lice but for survival.

Moving forward, our grace under pressure may crack, but let’s not lose it altogether. We continue to save lives by staying apart. We continue to care for each other by being distant, no matter how off-putting that may appear. The compassion is now in the words we speak and in the actions we fulfill. We can recover our sense of humanity and community by reaching the common goal of a COVID-less society. Get vaccinated. Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Stay alive. Those are your choices and your responsibilities. Let’s get this done.

Take care and stay safe,

KJ xo

On The Edge of An Ocean

The black and white photo of my parents sits proudly next to my wedding picture on my mantle. They were younger, huddled together with arms secured around each other in a joyful embrace. That’s how I like to remember them. Laughing. Together.

Both have since gone. My dad succumbed to cancer that ravaged his fifty-six-year-old body until there was nothing left. Memories were taken at the end. I heard him ask my mother as we stood at his bedside about the red-headed girl who was crying.  “Who is that?” he had asked. My mother looked at me, confused. She turned to his questioning face. “That’s Karla. You know her,” she said quietly patting his hand and willing him to recognize his only daughter.

My Dad was from Nova Scotia. “I’m a Bluenoser,” he would say. We would crinkle our noses and laugh, “Your nose doesn’t look blue!” I had no perception of Nova Scotia. A scant picture of a foreign landscape and of a Nana I didn’t know were my only introductions to an East Coast so vastly different than my Southwestern Ontario upbringing.  I possessed no concept of life outside my little townhouse in Chatham. He would tell us tidbits of his life in Digby. My dad was an only child. His stories of eating seaweed and sardines made us cringe and laugh. When he was in his teens, my grandfather urged him to work on the fishing boats. Hard work to which my Dad gave an honest effort, but it wasn’t for him. He had other plans. A three-year stint in the Air Force and then off to Ontario to find work. By 1954, he and my Mother had married, and they had started a family.

I’m fifty-four and I have lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for twenty-five years. I married a Botwood boy out of college. We met in Toronto, married, and started a family. As fate would have it, we were destined to an island, again, very foreign to me. It took a few years and a few kids later, but I adjusted. I understand the Bluenose reference. My ears have become acclimated to the various dialects and nuances of Newfoundland vernacular. I have even said a few, “Go on, b’ys,” myself. I appreciate the ease of becoming part of a community that is innately communal. Generations of families living close and welcoming ‘mainlanders’ into their fold. An expedition to stomp around the homestead of my late father is never far from my mind. A bucket-list item that heads the top, it should have happened years ago, but with babies comes responsibilities. The leisure of visiting a place of my roots was put off for something more immediate like a school trip or dance lessons. Now, the notion of a no-travel ban has raised its steel toe boot to my bucket- list and I lament not having made the trip. I had the luck to visit the Maude Lewis exhibition in Halifax last year before the ugly virus drove us inside. I felt at home sitting outside her house, thinking my Dad may have driven by her little painted dwelling on his way out of town. Maybe my grandfather knew her. The mere idea of a connection makes me feel at home. I’m part Bluenoser, part Newfoundlander and part Chathamite. Fractions of places that feed my identity as a whole woman at ease living on the edge of an ocean.

The Sound A Clock Makes

Like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  And doing something ‘well’ is quite relative a term.  And I hate starting sentences with ‘and’.  Ugh.    

As I’m feverishly writing my next entry into the anthology of ‘Books People Will Read After I’m Dead’ I’ve been missing events and goings on to which I really should have been paying more attention.   As I was downing my glass of wine the other night, someone mentioned something about Tik Tok.  I’m thinking Nanny’s noisy clock that is currently hanging in her kitchen and dings every BLESSED HOUR ON THE HOUR, but no.  Tik Tok is an app for lip-syncing and karaoke-gone-awry.   It’s a social media app that lets a person download a video of someone singing badly to N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys or maybe amore current musician like the Biebs.  I’m thinking of doing ‘Bye-Bye’ ala JT with the curls and the baggy jeans and the fancy-dancy moves. 

 

I could join Tik Tok and connect with the peeps who are jammin’ to NKOTB and IT’S BRITTANY, BITCH.  Maybe somebody singin’ some Alanis…Yeah.  “Isn’t it Ironic?  Don’t ya think?”  I could so NOT do that.  Well.  Not well.  At all.  

 Maybe I’ll do a video of Mags when she borks at the ‘hood dogs.  She could be the next big thing!  Add some music and BAM she’s the four-legged Madonna of the doggo-world.  Maybe she could do a whole rap-thing. Instead of ‘Lose Yourself’ she could do ‘Poo Yo’self’.    EPIC.  

I’ll keep brain-storming some ideas whilst desperately trying to stay on-trend.  Do we still say ‘whilst’?   Ugh.  

 

The Visitor. A Remembrance Day Story

Every year on this day, I post this story as a reminder of the sacrifice of so many for our freedoms.  I wrote this a few years ago hoping to pay homage to those brave men and women who continue to fight for us every day. 

Lest we forget. 

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The Visitor

I watched as the plane landed with a thunderous roar, the engines coming to an abrupt halt as if the pilot had simply turned the switch to the ‘off’ position.  I stood with my back hard against the biting wind, wondering if I should prepare a salute or simply stand at attention.  I waited for some direction from my superior officer, but none came.  I believe the shock of the arrival and the excitement of having such a prolific visitor come adrift upon our rocky shores had sent us all into a wave of silent awe.

It was November 1942.  The world was engulfed in the biggest conflict known to man, the classic battle between good and evil personified by the leaders of European nations struggling to define the world on their own terms, ignoring the plight and suffering of those they plundered into despair.  Leaders who were so enmeshed in their own agendas they took no notice of the people being tortured and beaten or of children being left to die on the streets with explosions and gunfire rattling their souls, shattering lives and dreams without a second thought.   Our little part of the world seemed so distant and removed from such gross atrocities against humanity, save the work our army was doing to assist our allies.  Our shores were vulnerable and England knew the possibility of oncoming attacks, sending reinforcements to protect our rocky cliffs by setting up battlements to keep constant watch over our ocean.  I say ‘our ocean’ as if we, the country of Newfoundland, could even suggest possessing such a thing.  This living, breathing entity entrusted to us by God to forever protect and nurture, and in return permission to fish her open blue waters.  She bestowed food in abundance to feed our families, nourish a growing country and sustain our people through long harsh winters, all the while, the stars beckoning fishermen to take to their boats and sail beneath their watchful gazes, enrapturing them in the ocean’s song of freedom and peace. The salty water blowing upon our land giving weight to the wet laundry strung out to dry on the tenuous lines, the gale force winds blowing it skyward.  Salt we could taste upon our lips, and feel the sting in our eyes after waiting and watching for our husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles to return home from months at sea.  Our lives hung in limbo, much like the laundry blowing haphazardly across the blue horizon. We were left to protect our waters, land and people with nothing more than a few strong men and the good sense God had granted us to outlast the evil dictators who were waging war against England.  We watched as our men and women departed for lands far out reaching our own, with the ever present knowledge that they may never return.  We applauded their bravery, mocked the suggestions of indignant retreats and prayed for their eventual safe return to Newfoundland’s humble embrace.

The wind blew out like a blast from God as I blindly stood, tears streaming down my face with my hands frozen by my side.  The Botwood air base was abuzz with excitement, people milling about in the cold waiting for the slightest chance of catching a glimpse of his surly expression, most likely with a lit cigar firmly planted between his teeth as ashes trailed his every step.  This was the man who held the fate of England in his hands although promising years of struggle and grief, he never wavered in his belief that we could withstand the loss of lives brought upon us by Hitler’s egocentric views that embraced the inane and contemptible.

The entire world watched as England waged war against the tyranny of this dictator. The population poured passionate and all-encompassing faith into a beloved and respected Prime Minister, believing he could lead the world to victory over the malevolent force spreading across Europe.   I was excited by the prospect of meeting the leader of almighty England, but nervous he may look upon me as subservient.  His stellar military career had ignited my own aspirations of service, however I knew that I was not his equal.  His brilliance was far beyond my capacities and I was quickly daunted by the challenges of such a life during this tumultuous time. It was as if people knew this was an era of change and historic will; nations rose together in allegiance to restore peace, hope and the conviction that all people should live without having to witness death and destruction in their backyards. It was a time where the future seemed uncertain, the constant news of battles and resulting casualties the topic of every radio broadcast, but when he took to the airwaves, we rose in unison to hope the end of such senseless slaughter would soon be upon us.  I recalled hearing the warnings from the Prime Minister years before this terrible outbreak regarding Hitler’s rampant greed for superiority and his assembling of armies in the name of ‘white supremacy’.  Although he was politely ignored, Churchill could see Europe’s demise propelling forward and he was prepared to rally a nation to stand tall and fight.  His inspiring words sprang intense patriotism that only war time mentality could comprehend, and years later as he took his seat as Prime Minister, he became England’s savior as well as our guide into the dark abyss of war.

I watched in wonder as the man of whom I had been inspired emerged from the plane, the propellers slowing as the engines died.  He stood, his long trench billowing about his ankles and lit his cigar surreptitiously beside the plane’s engines.  I smiled as I watched, seeing the horrified looks from my superiors at Churchill’s disregard for such trivialities as an impending explosion from a lighter in proximity to the plane’s fuselage.  They hurriedly escorted him away from the danger zone and into a path leading directly to where I was standing.  The smile must have still been securely glued upon my face as he approached and smiled back at me.  His hat had almost succumbed to a violent gust of wind and he forcefully replaced it upon his head.  He looked me up and down as if inspecting my presence in such a desolate and isolated place and said loudly, “Hello, Sergeant!  So, how do you like it up here in Newfoundland?”  I was momentarily stunned staring into his bright blue eyes and the energy and warmth behind them tempted a reply from my gaping frozen lips. “Fine, sir” I sputtered, “I like it fine.”

KJ

 

Writing a Sequel

The undertaking of writing the second instalment of False Hope is beginning to make me nervous.  I remember how time consuming and all-encompassing it was writing the first book and I’m beginning to feel bogged down.   I have one chapter completed with work starting on the second.  The struggle of carving out time to write characters and scenes and implement accents and plot points is difficult when summer weather decides to make an appearance.  The sun shines and I want to be outside, not locked in a room in the basement writing the next big adventure.  The rarity of sunshine makes it all the more important for me to head outside while it lasts.  Autumn is packing its bags getting ready to move in and wave summer off into the grand abyss where the seasons-that-barely-happened go to die.   Before I know it, I’ll be welcoming students back for another year, scheduling tests and skipping lunches in favour of one more hour for testing.   I’m fearful my penchant to procrastinate will overtake me and I’ll finish Book Two around the same time any grandchildren I’ve been promised have graduated high school.  

I’m ever-aware of my tendency to simply give-up or to throw my hands up in the air and proclaim it all a bit too much before I’ve even given it my best shot. I managed to stay focused and finish the first round and I’m hoping my determination will see me through to the next.  I have big plans for Claire and Jimmy in Book Two and I’m hoping it will all come to fruition.  They may even run into some old friends from False Hope.  (That was a hint, by the way in case you missed it.)  

My notes are gathering in the purple notebook I used for the False Hope.  I’ll simply keep it moving with more notes chapter-by-chapter and flesh out some new characters I have in mind.  I always change around chapters and events according to how things logistically work out.  For example, in False Hope Julien was supposed to be accused of nefarious activities with the women he was photographing.  If you notice in the book, there are references to a rapist running around loose in town and even a dark hooded stranger bumping into Julien when he was standing outside the office building where Ashley worked.  That incident was initially a set-up to a much larger sub-plot.  I backed down at the last minute not wanting Julien to undergo any further scrutiny and bias from his colleagues.  He had enough on his plate.  

My work continues on Book Two and I hope my characters move forward with their lives, but not everything can go easily for them in their new circumstances.  I’ll try to keep the momentum going through bouts of soaking up the intermittent sunshine and my tendency to walk away.

 I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe drop a few more hints along the way, like Jimmy Feherty.  He’s an Irishman straight from Belfast with eyes only for Claire.  Or so he says….