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What a long, strange, emotional week we had in Vancouver

City verging on lockdown as COVID-19 cases mount to 348
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been praised for her calm and reasoned approach to the coronavirus crisis. Photo Dan Toulgoet

What a long, strange, emotional week we had in Vancouver.

That is understatement of the century number one.

Here’s number two: These are extraordinary times for all of us who have never faced such uncertainty about what’s ahead in a city and province that has been spared for decades from widespread destruction, economic collapse and death.

I’m referring largely to natural disasters, not colonization or the opioid crisis, which continues to wipe out thousands of people across the country each year.

Two to three people in B.C. will die today of an overdose. Fewer than 10 people have died in the province since the coronavirus outbreak reached us in January.

So there’s some context.

But think about it, have we lived through any catastrophic hurricanes in the past 50 years? Major earthquakes that have killed hundreds? City-flattening tsunamis?

We’ve been a fortunate bunch, and now many of us are tucked in our comfortable homes, watching Netflix and making sure the dog gets a walk in the sun-filled park.

But here’s the strange.

When wildfires are raging across the province, we see the flames, we see the smoke. When there’s a tremor, we feel the ground shake. When hooligans rampage through the city over a hockey team losing a game, we see the destruction.

COVID-19 is an invisible threat.

We know 348 British Columbians have the virus, we know that a seniors’ home on the North Shore is losing residents at a rapid pace, with eight gone in the last month.

But we don’t see their faces, we don’t see the funerals.

Not yet.

The images from China and Italy should already be enough for us to heed the advice of the incomparable Dr. Bonnie Henry, our province’s calm and reasoned health officer, to wash our hands, keep our distance and stay home.

Yes, I got emotional when she broke down in a news conference earlier this month.

Am I allowed to confess that as a hardened scribe?

I got emotional too when Trudeau announced this week that it was time for Canadians to come home, which is odd because the guy has never penetrated my emotional wall.

But here’s why: One of my daughters and my mother-in-law are finally on a plane back from France today, leaving behind relatives in lockdown and a surreal Paris.

They travelled there in February when the virus was not much of a story in a country of nonchalance. They planned to visit relatives and were to return the first week of April.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law got to see her only living sibling before the rest of the trip was scrapped. Sadly, they couldn’t embrace when they said goodbye, maybe for the last time.

They were that frightened the virus would take them down.

This is not a good time for the elderly, which is understatement of the century number three, as those of us with parents who were born in the 1930s can attest.

My mother, for example, is watching a lot of Turner classic movies, in between solitary walks through her Burnaby co-op complex. One of her neighbours was to drop off a pandemic kit at her doorstep this morning, with a mask and wipes.

His name is Shoki, originally from Bangladesh.

He looks out for my mom, as do others in the complex recently arrived from various parts of the world. The generosity is appreciated by our family, who can’t always get out to see her.

But she’s fine, she tells me. The kind of fine that all parents tell their children so not to worry them.

My mom’s brother died in February and a mass was to be held in his name at her local church this week. She couldn’t go, of course, and I don’t know that the service ever happened.

But she’s fine, she tells me.

My daughter will be fine, too. So will my mother-in-law.

Enough about my family.

Let’s talk about the Italians singing to each other from their balconies and the French shouting into the evening in appreciation of their health care workers.

Human spirit of the best kind, wouldn’t you say?

And how about Vancouverites Amy Shier and Vicki F knocking out their own song in tribute to Dr. Henry and sharing it on social media for all of us to hear and see?

C’mon, that was nuts.

I’d already cried enough this week.

Then there’s Thane Pipes and his crew at Windsor Plywood, who donated their entire supply of safety masks to Lions Gate Hospital, where at least three administrative staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The act of kindness doesn’t surprise me.

I met Thane a few years back when the Courier’s old office near Fir and Seventh Avenue shared a parking lot with Windsor. Super guy, great sense of humour but poor hockey pool skills, as I recall.

I don’t know if defence lawyer Lisa Jean Helps knows Thane. But she must have had a week like many of us had, and wanted some good news.

So she took to Twitter and typed this: “I just cried a bit because today @windsorplywood donated their entire supply of 200 N95 masks to Lions Gate Hospital. Those masks will keep two best friends (nurses) and their colleagues and families safe. Thank you @windsorplywood I’m a new client of yours for life.”

So there’s a lot of nice going on out there, people, and that means something in these uncertain times.

And as Dr. Henry reminded us as she stood in front of reporters again this week, this is our time to be kind, to be calm and to be safe.

And to cry a little.