Last year I wrote a blog looking back at the year which I titled A year unlike any other. It ended like this:
As we approach the shortest day of the year, I am reminded of ceremonies celebrated by so many religions and cultures around the winter solstice. The darkest days of the year begin to fall away behind us, and we start emerging back towards the light. I hope that in our journey through COVID, the darkest days are also behind us, and we will emerge to a brighter year ahead. I also hope the strains caused by the pandemic will soon ease.
Could I have been more wrong? Exactly a year later the strains of living through a global pandemic are still very much with us. Indeed, the unrelenting presence of living with restrictions 12 months later makes this holiday season perhaps harder to bear than the last.
I wrote a column many years ago about the Statue of Liberty that has for over a century greeted immigrants arriving by sea. She holds a torch to enlighten the world and is an icon of the promised freedoms of a new life in a new place. In my piece, I suggested that Lady Liberty should really have a companion sculpture beside her called the Statue of Responsibility. A healthy society needs to embrace both freedoms and obligations: to understand that being a good citizen in any community is about finding a balance between individual liberties and collective responsibilities. I am encouraged by how many Islanders understand this dynamic, and a big part of our ongoing success these last two years comes down to our willingness to make personal sacrifices and to contribute to a group effort.
In some respects, we are better off than a year ago. Thanks to the gift of science, vaccines have given us an added layer of protection against serious illness, and, more generally, we have a better understanding of how COVID spreads and how we can protect ourselves and the community. But underlying all of this is a permanent sense of unease, like a low-grade, chronic headache that might flare up any moment into a full-blown migraine.
Everywhere I look, people are worn down by it all. And layered on top of this are some specific challenges we are facing here on the Island: the devastating impacts of the potato export ban, a rising cost of living that outpaces the rest of Canada by a country mile, yawning gaps between wages and the costs of essentials like food and shelter, and ugly truths about the racism, homophobia, and harassment that take place here. It is no wonder a somber mood seems to have descended on our troubled world.
But there are lots of reasons to be hopeful. As Max Ehrmann’s epic poem Desiderata says: “…in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” There is no end of broken dreams in our midst, with many recent reveries shattered by COVID, but it is indeed still a beautiful world. And PEI is a particularly special part of this beautiful world.
On a very personal level, I am an extraordinarily lucky man. Part of my good fortune is to work with some amazing people – whip-smart, hard-working, and kind-hearted. That is a powerful combination that has allowed me to exist in the often grim and scarring world of politics, and to feel supported and loved.
In the end, politics is really just about living together and making choices: choices that benefit everyone in our community. I think we can only fully celebrate this time of year when we know that all those around us are safe and well.
I hope during these tough times you are indeed feeling safe and well, and able to find some joy at this special time of year. While it may be harder to feel hopeful during this especially difficult holiday season, seeing our shared sense of community reminds me how fortunate we are to call this place home and fills me with confidence that we will get through this, together.