Teachers tend to children sick with Spanish Flu at Collège La Salle in Thetford Mines, Que. (Photo: Centre d'archives de la région de Thetford - Fonds galerie de nos ancêtres de l'or blanc [donateur: Juliette Dallaire]) - 1918 - Canadian Geographic

The Plague-Ground – COMFORTS AND JOYS


COVID-19 isn’t the only thing going viral.

It took just a week for us to be swamped with astounding new ways to help us cope with the dark days ahead.

We can learn to cook everything in our fridge just by taking a picture of what’s inside. We can join a virtual choir to belt out Hallelujah. We can learn to paint watercolours in just one day. We can even hire a drone to take our dog for a walk.

Most of these marvels are online, and we should marvel that this pandemic is hitting us when online life is endlessly diverting. So much to see and do, and so little…..

Well, actually, no. Not so little time. So much of it.

While this coronavirus has devalued all our savings, the biggest plunge has been in what, until two weeks ago, was the real world’s rarest and most precious commodity.

Back then, I was still trying to cram 30 hours of life into 24 hours of day.

Now, my calendar is clear and that emptiness hangs heavy.

What to do to fill all those hours?

I can do nothing, of course. But this is very hard for a hyperbolic extrovert like me. Especially to gear down from decades of 60 mph to days of zero. That sound I hear is my psyche stripping its gears.

Yes, I know help is a URL away. There are all those poems, including one in my last blog, Pablo Neruda’s Keeping Still.


I can read the novels of Charles Dickens that I had no time for in university, or in the 50 years since I was a freshman.  I can go for two-hour walks instead of hasty half-hour ones. I can sleep in every day; gorge on Netflix every night (Hot Picks: The Scandi-drama Caliphate and the French comedy Call My Agent). Learn to cook what I’ve always ordered in, which means everything from soup to nuts.

In fact, isn’t this one of our abiding fantasies? “When I retire, I’m going to …”

Or “When the kids are gone….” Or “When I cash out…”

So now, we have time to start learning how to do those old things as well as some new ones.

Amidst all the deaths so far and the potential for far worse to come, we can take comfort in being visited by a plague that seems to kill anywhere from 1% to 10% of the people it infects, depending on where you live.

We are lucky – to have the internet, to have social distancing, to live in a country that treats COVID-19 with the fear it deserves.

But most of all, we’re lucky the plague that visits us in 2020 is not the one that shrouded the world in 1918. Back then, millions of people huddled in their homes with no way to contact the outside world. Unless they wanted to risk almost certain death, that is.

Wade Davis wrote about his grandfather, an up-and-coming lawyer in Calgary who “left home in the morning, leaving my grandmother and their three children. Though perfectly healthy as he woke that day, he never came home. He collapsed and died in late afternoon, just one of the 50 million stuck down by the Spanish Flu.”

Let us pray.

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28 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – COMFORTS AND JOYS”

  1. We are mourning our mounting losses, and becoming enlightened at the same time. Routines and schedules have been altered as is how we think about them.
    New focus on what matters.

    1. Sandra — Thanks for this; and stay tuned to RamsayTalks Online! Coming to a laptop near you….Cheers. Bob

  2. Thanks Bob
    As a frontline worker I am lucky to have community. Though stressful! I find I am more stressed in fact enraged that folk are still meeting on the corner etc. that is what makes me cry. I have a ball of anxiety for people I dont even know. Stay safe. Xo

  3. Gives new meaning to The Never Ending Story although we all hope It will be ending, one day, in the positive, for all near and dear and elsewhere.
    I just cleaned out another not so secret secret drawer’ (as we used to call my father’s special receipts drawer). Way past due date things are gone. Broken things: gone. Combs with missing teeth: gone. Henna (now that my hair is white I don’t use it and I haven’t in 20 years): gone. In fact, gone is the social life, the external culture (another refund or reschedule or credit note from Mirvish), days of carefree and caring luncheons at Swiss Chalet, La Palma, etc.
    now is the time for reaching out to long time friends and checking in, and responding truthfully and thoughtfully to those who are reaching out so kindly to me, making sure my paper work is in order (just in case), joining Amazon Prime since the library is closed and I don’t like to read on-line although I am grateful for what WiFi offers me otherwise. This is day 10 of semi-self-isolation. Marked off in red on my analog calendar.

    1. Did you need to self-isolate? We were lucky; the last place we visited was Montreal over three weeks ago.

    1. Jane — Strange days, indeed. I trust you and Kent and the boys are huddling together?
      We have fled up north….Cheers. Bob

  4. Thank you for your leadership and words of wisdom…I added Walt Whitman’s Being Myself to my reading list. It reminds me of how we are all interconnected and how we will survive this by deepening our empathy for each other and living our lives humbly rather than in hubris #FragilePower

    1. Thanks, Paul. Hopefully empathy conquers all — even from the playing fields of Eton…
      All the best,

  5. I’m now beginning to feel overburdened by the vast number of options being thrown my way online. It’s a different kind of FOMO. I feel less virtuous for not learning to paint, or read Thackeray or do cardio and yoga every day. The list grows and grows. Perhaps we need to establish some boundaries and really set time for reflection instead of hyper online activity. Just a thought to ponder. Niki G

    1. Elizabeth — It took a whack across the forehead for us all, but it does seem to be re-setting.
      All the best,

  6. You can set sail again (or for the first time) on the Aubrey/Maturin Royal Navy novels by Patrick O’Brian. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, they are the continuous story of a RN captain and his surgeon – well told, humorous, touching, and lots of cannon. The stories are based on true naval encounters and gives a vivid and literary view of early 19th century life on board. It makes what we’re going through look like cake…

    1. My husband has read them all so many times that he has now given them all away to a friend, who is a new sailor, for him to enjoy.
      Any other nautical suggestions?

      And thank you Bob as ever. You are indeed a force of nature.

      1. Thank YOU, Diane…..please tell your husband I still enjoy his Instagram posts and wish I would eat and drink like him !

    2. Lots of cannon? Really?
      I’m on them!!!
      I’ll have to return to actually reading books by moving my eyes across their pages.
      For the past year — as walking grows into my main form of exercise — I’ve been listening
      to audio books. Each has its own comparative merits, I guess. But I will try the O’Brian stuff
      the old-fashioned way.

      By the way, we are watching a wonderful MNetflix series suggested by Portia Leggat: Call My Agent.
      Witty, bitchy, real.

      Cheers, and thanks for checking in, John.


  7. Perspective, like a diamond, has many facets. Our attitude about this current place in our life shapes that perspective. So, from one perspective we’ve been freed from the tyranny of busy. The bucolic dreams of many can now be fulfilled. Breathe, be, and do…something. We are gifted with the ability to be curious. Turn off clocks, tv, and reminders of the day. Instead, embrace the opportunity to be free to do, whatever you want. There will be a time in the near future to change gears and begin the burn and churn of hustle.

    This isn’t a prison sentence. Use this cherished time to recover and recharge.

    Just a thought.

    1. Hi, Dab, Bob Ramsay here. Just catching up….Glad to see your post got through Canada Border Protection!
      I want to use “begin the burn and churn of hustle.”

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