2020 has been an unprecedented year for vocabulary. COVID-19—that roly-poly microbe capped with a corona of peril—has unleashed across the land, not only germaphobia, economic meltdown, social lockdown, hoarding of toilet paper, and designer masks, but also a cluster of authoritative terms and acronyms (including ‘cluster’) that blurt through our lips like awkward toads: sanitize, quarantine, new normal, uncertain times, respiratory droplet transmission, N95 and PPE, flattening the curve (which does NOT refer to a lapsing bottom), zooming (cheekily named, considering it is the exact opposite of high-speed travel), outbreak, lockdown, isolate, intubate, ventilate, vaccinate, community spread (which sounds friendly, like a shared jar of Cheese Whiz) and my favourite, super-spreader, which is a trench-coat of a word that stimulates all manner of blushing whenever I apply even the teeniest bit of imagination to it.
But, if I may be so bold, allow me to suggest one word that encapsulates all of our current COVIDastrophe: that word is, weird.
I am not alone in my opinion on this. Our spanking new normal President, Iain Lonsway, described the General Meeting held here in Cedar Springs on August 20th as “the weirdest general meeting” he had ever attended.
Weird, as most people use the word, is something that is “unaccountably or uncomfortably strange.” But if you dig into the roots of the word, you’ll find that the first known written record of ‘wryd’ is from the 5th century poem, Beowulf, where the poet notes that, “Weird always goes as it will.” This original understanding of weirdness is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined; fate, destiny.”
Now there’s food for thought. This pandemic is without question, unaccountably and uncomfortably strange, but you might also say that, as a power, COVID is certainly fiddling with our fates as well.
As fate would have it, the famous Mike Myers and I attended our first Cedar Springs General Meeting in May, 1992. The meeting was held in the hall; the hall was packed with members sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on stackable church chairs. Mike and I were pumped with happy anticipation for our first introduction to our new Cedar Springs community. We noted, with curiosity, a wide banner strung across the hall stage, handwritten, and shouting in caps, SILENCE IS COMPLICITY. The meeting began, and almost immediately an argument broke out between two senior gentlemen: Eoin MacIntyre and Peter Campbell. Apparently, Eoin, who had the look of a man from the Shire, was the audacious rebel behind the banner. Apparently, Peter, not from the Shire, did not take kindly to the banner’s message. Peter rose from his church chair and walked slowly, supported by his cane, to the front of the room and with his cane, whacked the banner down. Mike and I looked at each other. Weird, was my first thought. I’m gonna love this place, was my second.
Fast forward twenty eight years to this most recent General Meeting on August 20th, and I am once again seated and waiting for the meeting to begin. Mike is not with me because viral protocols demand that only one Springer-per-cottage shall attend in order to keep the numbers below the epidemiologically safe one-hundred souls. I note Peter Campbell’s very own son, Simon, seated at a long table at the front of the meeting, busily tapping on his laptop, and decked out in a plastic face shield that looks like a see-through Storm Trooper’s mask, with a second mask, cloth, beneath that. Weird, I think.
What else is weird?
It’s weird that this meeting is outside. It’s outside because at this time in our history it is against the law to gather indoors in groups of more than fifty. We’re sitting on white plastic lawn chairs which are an improvement on the church chairs only because they have arms. These chairs are positioned on the pristine green pickleball court with surgical precision, 2 meters apart in a grid which we are told will gird us against those nefarious respiratory droplets which everyone has been going on and on about. The sun, which is setting, slants its light across the chairs, making them blaze white like gap-toothed toddler teeth, smiling. The whole thing, this geometric spacing of the white chairs on the flawless green pickleball square, looks like some sort of obtuse art installation.
The Board has situated at the table where Simon types in the shelter of the gazebo; but the assembling Springers, for the most part, eschew the shelter, choosing instead to sit on the sunny chairs on the pickleball court, no doubt preferring the soft setting light and the waning warmth of this late August day. As people take their seats, I hear jokes being cracked about the meticulous spacing of the chairs, about following the rules, about not “getting in trouble”.
This General Meeting is our only gathering of the summer of 2020. Fiona Wasik is taking attendance: there are about sixty Springers assembled so we’re safely under the critical-one-hundred. Almost everyone is wearing a mask. Weird. There are folks here I’ve known for nearly thirty years, and yet I’m having trouble figuring out who is who. This is so odd, so puzzling, to see these highly recognisable faces concealed by bandit-masks. I am reminded of how I must always adjust my view at our annual Thanksgiving dinner, when I first encounter my familiar Cedar Springs summer-people (who mostly wear tee-shirt-and-shorts) disguised in their swaddling October sweaters.
Waiting for the meeting to begin, people chat through their masks across the six-foot gaps. We’ve been COVIDstructed not to mingle, which means we may only talk to the people seated near us. Carol Lonsway is to my left, and up a row. When she turns to chat, sunlight brightens her eyes, which are all I can see above the pretty mask she is wearing. But I know she’s smiling, even though I cannot see her smile. All around me I hear muffled chuckles, muffled chatter, all muted by masks; and crickets calling from the patch of wetland, and birds calling from the trees. When the meeting finally begins, our out-going President, Laurie Reid, apologetically explains that there is only one microphone, it cannot be passed from person-to-person (super-spreader that it is) and so she will have no choice but to do all the talking. That is, apparently, the trick to short meetings, since this one was a record breaking twenty-seven minutes long.
But what a picture of peacefulness those twenty seven minutes were, washed in the honeyed light of the setting sun, with all of us adapting, gently, good-naturedly, to our viral fate, quietly enjoying the silliness of the situation, while still aware of the pervading shadow of the pandemic, of what travels with that word: unexpected, quarantined dying; silences in the great bustling public places, in the school rooms, and in the skies; beloved elders trapped behind glass; exhaustion in the hospitals; economic anxiety.
At this General Meeting of the members of Cedar Springs, in this weirdest of summers, the pandemic felt both far away and near: there we were, a picture of peace and well-beingness, but then, what about those masks, those mathematical chairs, so strict, and that unsharable microphone? It was a tricky thing to square: the peace against the pandemic.
On that August early-evening, I was wishing, hoping, that the golden-warm light that was so permeating us with summer and with friendship, might blaze away the virus. Now, as I write these words, I am again wishing, hoping that fate and the virus will permit us to gather for our Thanksgiving dinner in October. But IF we are able to do so, will it be weird as well? Will we wear masks that match our cosy sweaters? Will we eat outside, bundled in puffy jackets against the cold, wielding flashlights against the supper-time darkness that comes with the fall?
Well, if we do end up cancelling Thanksgiving, I say, phooey to you, COVID virus: we will not cancel our thankfulness. Instead, we will hold it silently in our hearts, this comforting knowledge that we are the lucky ones; that we have this community, these lands, this Cedar Springs, this weird and wonderful Camelot-of-places in which to shelter from the contagious storm that has been our lot for the past half-year. And for that, my sanitized, unsharable, physically distant, super-spreading cup runneth over with COVIDratitude.
Janet Turpin Myers – Editor