Stepping beyond uncertainty

by Lillian Ireland

There’s a dull ache from not knowing when these COVID days will end.
I wake up each day from dreams of how I feel
and trapped inside a sea of strange disbelief and grief.
It’s like a fictional foreboding from which I want relief.

It feels like a hammer has pummeled hard upon us all.
I want life to carry on but at times can barely crawl.
It’s hard to pull back from numbers which keep growing on the screen.
I remember earlier times, so this is quite hard to believe.

Yet, I’m doing things right with masks and safe distancing from others,
but I’d like to give in, throw up my hands; I just want to see my brother!
Still, I have to stay wise, this goes beyond since family includes us all.
We have to stay strong and keep it up with prescripted protocols.

Sacrifices made, week after week, with one foot in front of another,
lifting, laughing, loving and soft words to calm each other.
A phone call we can offer or an email or a card,
some empathy and compassion; it’s really not that hard.
And somehow it feels better to help another through their day,
I’ve been told it’s in ‘the giving’.
They’re right, it is the heartfelt way.
This will eventually ease, yet for right now this is our only way.

As we all continue along the COVID treadmill, some folks are doing unique and uplifting things with their time.

Patricia Grinsteed, a retired Suzuki Elder now aged 91, inspired many recently. After battling with, and then recovering from COVID herself, and while sadly and frighteningly knowing many neighbouring residents in the Lynn Valley Care Centre had succumbed to the virus, Patricia chose to rise again. Her inner strength and desire to help others overrode her grief. She walked 150 laps around the Care Centre to raise thousands of dollars for the North Shore Women’s Centre. Giving back after enduring her own COVID ordeal is truly inspirational! Patricia didn’t let anything stop her from accomplishing her goal.

Dr. Tim Takaro, 63, a physician-scientist has also stepped outside his normal boundaries recently. A few weeks ago he spent ten days in an unusual way bringing attention to his concerns about the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. He knew what he was risking but felt compelled to again get his message out, this time sitting 25 metres high above the ground in a small tent in the branches of a cottonwood grove. He alluded to some comparisons with the current pandemic.

COVID has shown us that we can respond to a health emergency with incredible strength by citizens and government. “Future generations depend upon us to do the right thing now, and spend our money on the future and not the past” (SFU News, August 13, 2020)

Dr. Takaro’s expertise lies in the study of occupational and environmental medicine. He is a professor of Health Sciences at BC’s Simon Fraser University and deeply concerned about the health impacts of our ever-growing climate emergency. Two years ago, when the local air quality index had gone off the scale exceeding 10+ from forest fires, Dr. Takaro pleaded for folks to connect the dots. BC wildfire smoke extended from British Columbia across Canada, the Atlantic and even reached Ireland. He and other medical experts were, and still are, deeply concerned about the entire gamut of global health effects arising from our changing climate. Several weeks ago Dr. Takaro again brought his message forward. He was the first of several to raise public awareness from atop the cottonwood trees this year.

This past month Jill Schroder, another Suzuki Elder, along with several in her family attained their lofty goal. They climbed the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver, B.C. This steep 2.9 km trail, known as Mother Nature’s Stairmaster or The Grind is aptly nicknamed for its arduous ascent. Jill’s husband Mike is 80 and going through cancer treatment. He didn’t let that stop him or their family from achieving their admirable target. Their fifteen-year-old grandson, who is also dealing with some health issues, reached the peak in one hour which is quite remarkable! The Grouse Grind is not for the faint of heart nor for those out of shape.

We’ve gotten in better shape ourselves these last six months by hiking local trails. Back in March we began this regime while also photographing the beauty and wonders of nature to help as reality counter-checks to the news of COVID. For most of us the virus has caused a cascade of emotions, thoughts and challenges. It was hard to absorb the difficult news while trying to repel it at the same time. Hence, seeing hundred-year-old trees and spring’s new growth along the forest paths, and taking in the scents of spring unfolding while watching migratory birds return was a healthy and much needed balm.

While on the wooded trails we chose to smile and greet each person who passed us. Making brief eye contact and exchanging a quick smile is somewhat normal on a trail, but an actual “Hello, how are you doing?” with a stranger is not. Thus began our journey of stepping outside our comfort zone. Initially it was quite a stretch initiating short conversations with strangers but we were surprised how many folks were grateful and sometimes eager to chat. While maintaining a minimum of two metres some incredible exchanges took place. Some folks had not spoken with anyone face-to-face for days so, at times, we just listened.

As well as holding gratitude for finding solace along the trails, many spoke of their anxiety and concern as they grappled with the news of COVID’s development. This further spurred us to continue connecting. Hearing how one nurse worked in a specialized unit filled with patients, most on ventilators, gave us continued reason to simply bear witness.

During another encounter, we met a newly married young couple who had chosen to go ahead with their wedding day, but unaccompanied by any family or friends. A photographer had taken their photos against a mountainous background after they had signed their papers. That was the extent of their COVID wedding day. Watching them come towards us in a radiant long wedding gown and handsome suit at dusk on the dimly-lit dirt trail was surreal. That particular secluded footpath is rarely used, which added another dimension to the uniqueness and gift of our happenstance. Getting to acknowledge, congratulate and briefly share in their special day, two metres between all of us, with geese flying above and horsetails rising from the earth will not be forgotten.

On a different day, crouching down with a young family whose two-year-old was discovering banana slugs for the first time was also an extraordinary experience. Seeing his unabashed wonder along with his parents’ tender support and encouragement was another example of moments that matter.

It has been a joy and pleasure to meet and greet hundreds of people since March. With many we’ve also taken a moment to talk about local birds. Showing replicas of the Steller’s jay (BC’s provincial bird), the chickadee and the robin was also a good way to initiate a conversation. We called these our two-metre-two-minute encounters as we encouraged families to listen for the birds in the forest, off their decks and in their back yards, since all three species live locally. The bird replicas, from the National Audubon Society (available at most wild birdfeed stores) have actual recordings in them so there were many surprised looks and recognition when people heard the bird calls. We invited folks of all ages to actively listen for different species and to realize some are here for only a few months along their migratory circuit but hopefully would return next spring.

Schools are beginning to see many students and staff return after their lengthy time away. Anyone involved with the education system will likely initially be contending with confusion, frustration and possibly fear in this ever-evolving reality. Patience, cooperation and a willingness to go beyond old parameters and practices are some of the ways they will be stepping into this new territory.

What a strange time in history for them and for the rest of us! From folks personally battling COVID to all of us battling climate change on various levels, our days are precarious and precious. Global health cannot be taken for granted. From crouching down and sharing in the discovery of banana slugs with a two-year-old to perching in the crown of cottonwood trees pleading with the world to pay attention to our continually growing climate emegency, these days are ours to live as we choose and as best as we can. It takes incredible stamina to get through each day when things are biting at our heels. So, regardless of where we are in life, may we offer the best of ourselves for not only today, but for the unseen tomorrows.

By offering an uplifting and genuine smile to a stranger, parent or educator, supporting young people trying to make sense of today’s world, or climbing well outside one’s comfort zone, our actions often speak louder than words. We may be the only big book someone reads.

As we all journey along the COVID continuum may we continue to reach out beyond our uncertainties. In lifting others you too will be lifted.



  1. Oh dear, Lillian, this lovely poem and post brought tears to my eyes at many junctures. Bless you, your words, actions, resilience, creativity, love and caring. It’s a gift to know you, and know you are out and about making the world a better place. Much love and many blessings, Jill

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