Editorial note: The following is a submitted opinion piece on one Kingstonian’s experiences of life during the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of her dogs in it. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
As the evolution of COVID chugs along like an overloaded Mumbai passenger train, it has occurred to me that there must be more fruitful ways to cope with the interminable and exhausting renovations the pandemic has imposed on our lives. We tried our best, deploying a bevy of activities to distract ourselves from the nagging realization that death was indeed nipping at our heels knowing that, eventually, it may just get a good bite in.
First, we read. All manner of abandoned books that lay scattered around our homes had been accorded a new purpose. We found novels on top of refrigerators beside stale crackers, and blurry, dog-eared works of fiction that had once taken a dip in the tub. We routed out crisp paperbacks stuffed behind steaming radiators, and let us not forget the dust-covered autobiographies found under the bed, in good company with dirty socks and underwear. If we were lucky, our local libraries were still open, but if not, we could be found skulking around neighbourhood free little libraries scavenging for a new and engaging read. We had become papyrus werewolves devouring everything in our path. It was a veritable prose bloodbath.
Inevitably, the feeding frenzy ended, and the air was suffused with the fetor of reading burnout. It was impossible to stay focused long enough to follow even the most banal of narratives, let alone a serious piece of literature. The stories felt irrelevant and at times even obscene. Should we really be setting our minds to biographies of burned-out, sagging-tattooed rockers who kicked a heroin habit 20-odd years ago? Was COVID not the plat du jour? In the end, COVID won that debate, and our books were carelessly tossed back behind the radiator.
Like crows to a corn field, we took to walking. We walked with our children, our neighbours, our parents, our cousins, and friends. We walked with canes, with ski poles, with snowshoes, and even walkers, but by God: we walked. At first, the conversations were lively, full of shock and dismay, but infused with that initial thrill of camaraderie for our COVID compatriots. We were feeling fearless in our quest to fight this deadly interloper—we had channeled our inner Che Guevara. We would greet on-coming COVID soldiers with grand waves and cheery smiles, a real show of walkers’ solidarity. However, over time, this bravado and naive optimism petered into a gloomy acceptance of how truly desperate our situation had become, and the walks became yet another impotent distraction that we discarded along with the books.
We found ourselves streaming countless hours of TV programs. We became overly invested in the characters and often found ourselves in disbelief, knowing the inevitable last episode of the last season had arrived too quickly and we had to wave bye-bye to our new TV friends… how pitiful we had become. The staggering saturation of screen time led not only to carpal tunnel syndrome, but also to streaming fatigue, which eventually brought us to the realization that we were now in need of a serious intervention. Some of us survived the agonizing withdrawal and others went deeper still down the TV rabbit hole, never to be seen again.
So, things weren’t going so well. I knew there had to be more constructive ways to survive this madness, but it wasn’t until I looked to my two terriers that I began to see a way forward. I observed that during COVID, life for them had remained essentially the same and the only time they showed a hint of anxiety was when they were reacting to mine. I began to take my cues from these two loving forces and this shift led to a remarkable path of enlightenment.
Clara and Darby would regulate my sleep/wake times by storming me with sloppy kisses and thumping tails at precisely 7:30 each morning. Their unbridled enthusiasm was virtually impossible to ignore. I started to experience a frisson of excitement for our forenoon lovefests which started my day with sunshine rather than impending doom. I took to joining them for playtime in the yard, one of their favourite things and. as a result, it became one of mine. There were our indoor tussles that involved lots of belly rubs, ball chasing and the beheading of a multitude of stuffies. Instead of listening to the most dispiriting news of the day, we played together to our favourite music. While lapping up the runaway joy of these two furry wonders, I forgot myself in the process. These play sessions became my salvation.
Then, of course, the best ever: “food glorious food!” Dogs are forever grateful at mealtime, regardless of the slop we serve up. This had to change for them and for me, so I began cooking them yummy, nutritious meals and, whilst doing this, I was also inspired to cook more creatively for myself. So, I stopped survival eating and sat down — well, squatted down — to fabulous meals with my pals, and began to enjoy the magic of food again.
Exercise for my dogs had nothing to do with keeping their weight down, but rather an exhilarating outing that involved plenty of sniffing, peeing, and the occasional mixing with other pups along the way and, lucky dogs, they didn’t even have to wear masks! There was no fear in their hearts, only whack-a-doodle, over-the-top excitement to meet their ancestral peeps. So, was I getting a good walk in? Did I get my heart rate up for a continuous 40? No way, but it mattered not, because I was in the moment, walking with my pals, enjoying their wonderment with the world. So, as we walked without purpose, we found purpose together.
Napping comes so naturally to dogs. They have no antiquated work-ethic guilt or nagging thoughts that there is something more important to attend to. So once again, I took their cues and curled up beside them for afternoon nappies. I came to embrace our siestas, shedding all expectations of accomplishing anything other than resting my body and clearing my mind. It was blissful rest for the sake of resting and nothing more. In those moments, their heartbeats became mine.
So, as we walked without purpose, we found purpose together.”—Ann marie Rousseau
And so it went with Clara and Darby. Our simple daily rituals of playing, walking, napping, and eating were routines that in the end, allowed me to let go of the weight of the human experience of COVID. These wonderful creatures helped me to fear less and to simply carry on, because that’s just what they do, they simply carry on. More importantly, they bestowed upon me their enduring gift of love, love given without any expectation of a return on their investment, but really, it was the ‘giving to them’ that saved me and allowed me to live more freely. They drew me back from the edge more than once and for that, I am forever grateful.
It is in the simplest of details that we find ourselves, and in the letting go of what is essentially human: self-consciousness. Thanks to Clara and Darby, I am liberated from that sentence and able to walk forward, without purpose, one paw at a time.
Ann Marie Rousseau
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