Quarantine: A bittersweet blessing

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The unexpected benefits found in lockdown

by hila smith, Contributor

We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel – vaccines are coming, immunity is rising, in just a few short months this nightmare year will be over and life can get back to the way it was before COVID-19. Lots of people are overjoyed about this – I know I should be happy too. But really, honestly? I’m not ready for the pandemic to be over.

That’s not to say I don’t think it should end, of course. People are still dying, and other peoples’ health and well-being and studies and livelihoods have been totally devastated by this goddamn disaster of a year – I’m not so selfish that I would wish all that on others just because I, personally, have benefitted. If I had the power to snap my fingers and eradicate COVID off the face of the Earth, I’d do it in a heartbeat (and then be very impressed that I’d learned how to snap – I’ve never been able to do that before). But beyond masking up, sticking to my bubble, and planning to get my vaccine as soon as I can, there’s very little I can do on the individual level to actually control the spread of the disease. So maybe it’s okay that, when I think about the pandemic, I’m mostly grateful?

Like most of the people I know, I also had a rocky start with quarantine. Through my program I had been matched with a paid summer internship in Saskatoon, and when the U of R went remote at the start of April, I decided I would move right away in case it was going to become more difficult to travel between the cities.

So, I arrived in Saskatoon on the night of April 2, only to find that the landlord I was going to be renting from had changed his mind that day – he didn’t want to take a new tenant during the pandemic after all. Then, a couple days later, my internship was cancelled as well. I was doing my best to keep up with my online classes with my old, dying laptop in a temporary housing situation with no idea how I was going to pay for classes in the fall.

But then, things started looking up. After some back-and-forth with my program director, I was able to match with another really excellent internship that I could do remotely. Classes wrapped up, so I had a bit more breathing space. And – most importantly – the family I was staying with, who had agreed to let me crash in their basement for a couple of days while I sorted out my housing nightmare, decided they wanted me to stay.

I know that I got very, very lucky. What are the odds that a friend of mine would have parents in the Saskatoon area who were willing to help out a stranger in a pinch? Or that I would be able to help out in turn by offering to stay with their daughter during the workday? Or that we would all genuinely like one another?

I had been estranged from my own family of origin for just over a year at the start of the pandemic, and getting to spend a year living with these wonderful people who I now think of as my “bonus Saskatchewan family” is not something I ever would have expected. When I left home – as necessary as it was – I thought I was also forfeiting any “right” to be cared for, to have safety and peace (such as they were) that I hadn’t eked out for myself. But now I’ve had a whole pandemic to spend with people (and a dog!) who have redefined my understanding of what care, peace, safety, and family means, and I’ll always be grateful for it.

The pandemic has also let me take advantage of so many work opportunities that would otherwise have never come my way. Because all my classes are remote, I don’t have to commute, so I am able to hold down essentially full-time hours at a job I love without compromising either my work or my education. I have also been able to take on all sorts of remote freelance jobs that have connected me with wonderful people all over the province, and even in other parts of Canada and the States as well.

Essentially, the pandemic has been a miracle for me.

I don’t always know what to make of that dichotomy – that something so awful has been so good for me in so many ways. I remember nervously waiting to hear the University’s decision about whether our winter classes this year would be taking place in person or remotely; when the decision was made, I was thrilled, because it meant I had more time in this beautiful little equilibrium I’d somehow landed in. At the same time, so many of my friends and classmates were profoundly disappointed because they were having a harder time with online classes and were missing out on the in-person support.

Because of the remote work opportunities I’ve found, I’ve actually been able to earn and save some real money this year. This time last year, I was relying on food security programs to get by. Even though I don’t have to worry about affording groceries anymore and am feeling very confident in my career prospects after I graduate, food banks are currently straining under the heightened demand.

I’ve been trying my best to do my part – giving to local organizations that are doing important work, being there for my friends who are struggling, and keeping my personal joys in perspective with the larger-scale suffering the pandemic has caused in the world.

In the end, I know this pandemic didn’t come about because of me, and I’ve done everything in my (limited) power to avoid spreading it around or drawing it out any longer. But I’m really going to miss it when it’s over.

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