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Cultivating COVID Gratitude Gary Fowlie It’s been a year and a half since Covid and I started our long haul and like everyone else, I’m anxious to put this stretch of human highway behind me. Still, I know that when heading into oncoming traffic it’s best to look back to see who’s behind you. The two drivers I see in my rear view mirror couldn’t be more different. They are my mother and Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ provides a great template to measure what we’ve all been through. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ Dickens wrote 162 years ago. ‘It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Upon reflection we can all find evidence to testify to Dickens insight. Mine will follow. My mother comes first. Mom was no writer. She was a woman whose taste in literature was more Danielle Steele than Dickens and when faced with someone whose obstinacy led them to hold on to their opinions despite the facts set before them, she would be quick to retort “You know it’s a fine line between stubborn and stupid!” Mom would have had a field day with the many who’ve ignored the science and put their stubbornly selfish opinions ahead of the common good and in doing so put their life and everyone else at risk. My mother’s favored line marks the boundary drawn by Charles Dickens between wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, hope and despair and there are plenty of examples of how the pandemic has proven Dickens and my mother right on a professional, political and personal level. Professionally I spent most of a 16 year career at the United Nations, and the better part of a lifetime before that, trying to prove that ‘universal and affordable access’ to technology like the internet is a ‘utility’, as important to our economy in this century as electricity was in the last. It just took a pandemic lockdown and a retooling of the education, health and retail sectors to make it obvious. On the other hand, the internet, which enabled global collaboration and the development of a Covid vaccine at record speed, enables the dissemination of misinformation at velocities that challenge the most critical thinker; making it tough to separate the credible Town Criers from the Village Idiots. Simply put, the internet allows the stupid to feel smart by seeking out someone to reinforce their ignorance. We all know at least one person like this. Maybe even a family member; like one of mine who doesn’t trust the mRNA science behind the Covid vaccine yet believes in ‘healing touch’ (aka no-contact massage) as a Covid treatment. On the political front, there were too many politicians who told us what we wanted to hear rather than what we needed to know and who said they felt our pain but only long enough to gain more power. Too often they went to extremes; either braying endlessly with complaints yet stubbornly providing no solutions or stomping around like creatures of privilege, clinging to old ways and even older slights. Fortunately, Covid has also marked the rise of the independent millennial voter who puts the issues ahead of their prejudice or parental practice and are willingly to call out the stubbornly stupid regardless of their political stripe. They give me hope. Personally, Covid has been a physical and emotional challenge on many levels. I’ve been humbled and made to face my own mortality, yet it’s given me renewed appreciation for every day that I wake up on the right side of the grass. It’s also renewed my love for friends and family that I took for granted and while it’s reminded me I can’t control everything, it’s gotten me off my butt to do what I can, while I can. This fall, hopefully the last one under the Covid cloud, I suggest we all try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness for what we’ve been through. It will help us build resilience to the inevitable surprises of the future and it will give us the courage to move forward together in the present. We have science on our side here too. A study of 997 survivors of the SARS epidemic found that recovered individuals were more resilient, had better social support, and experienced less worry. I’m sure Dickens, who unlike my mother, wrote a great deal about redemption would have agreed with her. It is indeed a fine line between stubborn and stupid. Dickens tells us that “suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape”. I’m stubborn enough to believe him and stupid enough to make my mother proud if and when Dickens is proven wrong. Gary Fowlie Gary Fowlie is a former CBC Journalist and Technology Economist who represented the United Nations specialized agency, the International Telecommunication Union at UN Headquarters in New York where he previously served as Chief of Media Liaison. He was diagnosed with Covid in April 2020.

Gary Fowlie (New York)