„Will I find joy ever again?“

Heute gibt’s eine Premiere in den BLOGHAUSGESCHICHTEN. Mein Freund und Kollege Doug Sweet (Jahrgang 1954) hat einen Gastbeitrag geschrieben, der aktueller nicht sein könnte. Doug berichtet über die dunkle Seite von Covid und darüber, was ein Montrealer Winter mit Menschen anstellt, die seit Monaten im Quasi-Lockdown leben. Mein Freund beschreibt eindringlich den „schwarzen Hund“, der ihm an einem bitterkalten Nachmittag Anfang der Woche zu schaffen machte – ein Synonym für Depression. Mit den gängigen Übersetzungsprogrammen lässt sich der englische Text leicht übersetzen. Machen Sie sich die Mühe. Es lohnt sich:

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Today there’s a premiere in the BLOGHAUSGESCHICHTEN. My friend and colleague Doug Sweet (born 1954) has written a guest post that couldn’t be more timely. Doug reports on the dark side of Covid and what a Montreal winter does to people who have been living in quasi-lockdown for months. My friend vividly describes the „black dog“ that got to him on a bitterly cold afternoon earlier this week – a synonym for depression. The English text translates easily with the usual translation programs. Make the effort. It’s worth it:

When the black dog leapt with a snarl, it was sudden and surprising, but not entirely unexpected. There had been warning sightings before, when the animal had slunk into sight from time to time over the past two years.

But still. Before I trudged home from the frozen emptiness of downtown Montreal on a recent  pandemic afternoon, my mood had brightened. There had been good news at the optometrist’s, where a recent eye issue was said to be resolving nicely. A cold sun was actually shining for a change and the long-range forecast, if it could be believed, had now begun to promise a relaxation of the Arctic grip that had had us in its clutches for weeks. 

So with all this optimism and hope, why now? As I slogged along the frozen tundra that passes for a Montreal sidewalk these days, I found myself focused on ticking off all the negatives. This black list quickly eclipsed the earlier sunshine of optimism. It was a powerful collection. 

For the better part of two months, we’ve been living here in a double-walled prison: unbearably

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is doug-sweet.jpeg
DOUG SWEET in Gibraltar – with the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in the background.

frigid weather, the kind that makes you think twice before even sticking your nose out the door – forget about the potential fun and relaxation of something like cross-country skiing – and the seemingly endless prohibitions imposed by a provincial government desperate to get some control over a tenacious pandemic, but seemingly incapable of producing a plan at once coherent, understandable and acceptable to the public. Not to mention effective, given the grim statistics that continue to show Quebec as one of the worst jurisdictions in the western industrialized world when it comes to the measurement that counts most: deaths per 100,000 population.

Added to the feeling of “neverendum” (a word once used to describe this province’s taste for  referendums on sovereignty) was a larger sense of despair about politics and society in general. The pandemic has exacerbated divisions between groups of people, but also enticed more and more in the political class to exploit those divisions for their own gain or the advancement of their “side.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in the disunited States of America, but it is depressing to see the trend surging across our border to infect one of the country’s two largest political parties, now seemingly in the thrall (like the Republicans) of a small but noisy minority  of right-wingers proudly defending the rights of those who refuse to take the most elemental step to combat this virus: a simple, safe and free vaccination.

Empty store shelves contributed to the darkness enveloping my mood. The emptiness of the downtown core, its main street still ripped up in key places and vacant storefronts standing as a sentinel of tough economic times.

I was hungry. Could I find a snack to munch on? Food courts in the underground shopping areas were largely closed, and even if I could buy something to eat, there was no place to sit. This problem festered as I headed home, and I finally stopped to pick up two pieces of pastry (something I should avoid) at a bakery near the train station. No place to sit. Anywhere. Even in the station itself. That, too, is against the rules.

Finally, on my way back to the outside, I spotted an installation of potted green plants, with a little ledge around them. There was no one in sight. Ducking behind the plants as best I could, I furtively slipped my mask halfway off and gobbled down one of the pastries, ignoring startled looks from the two people who walked past me. This was repeated at another venue, where I saw people sneaking sandwiches on the steps around an indoor fountain. What have we been reduced to?

The bitter cold, itself in fact a talisman of the existential crisis we face in climate change, didn’t help. Nor did walking past the demolition of one of the city’s grandest old movie houses from another era, the Loews, soon to be turned into a tower of more luxury condos of which the city is apparently in desperate need.

DARK, COLD AND LONG: Winter in Montreal.

Other bleakness jumped into the fray. I love watching and cheering for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team; this year they are hapless at best and an embarrassment at worst. Most of the time, it’s the latter. Will we ever be able to take the trip (cancelled just before Christmas) to visit our younger son in Texas? How will my remaining aging parent and my in-laws manage in the not-too-distant and inevitable, future? Will Quebec ever return to being (or simply be) a champion of human rights instead of protecting its language and culture at the expense of others, with the enthusiastic support of most of its population? 

Will I find joy ever again?

These are the ramblings of an overcrowded brain sinking into despair during a frozen 20-minute walk. There’s a common thread to all of the negatives on that dark list: each and every one is beyond my control. Save for ensuring I have been triple-vaccinated, I am an unhappy passenger for all of the above, and I can’t really tell who’s driving this bus. It’s not a good feeling.

But, thanks to talking about it, and now writing about it, the black dog has retreated for the moment – evidence, I think, that when life gets us down, when we drop into despair, it is important to reach out to others to remind ourselves that not all is dire and desperate. 

The corollary is that we then need to be there for others when they need us.

Doug Sweet is a retired newspaper journalist and university communications administrator who lives in Montreal.

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