Quarantine left me wondering what exactly optimism is and why it is something that we continue to desire. Is it a smokescreen created to cope during times of crisis? Is it used to ignore the negativity that COVID-19 brings? Is optimism needed to face the brutal honesty of our reality? A notion of strength that promises a swift end to our newfound adversity?
While days trickled by, events blurring together, the only part of my life that continued at full speed was the e-learning material thrown at me in high school. I worried how this complete overhaul of our way of living would reflect on my grades, schoolwork, and scholarships that relied heavily on my academic and extracurricular involvement.
I experienced school stress only in the confines of my bedroom, and my optimism began to dwindle at astronomical rates, becoming characteristic of the boredom and loneliness that my four lavender bedroom walls created. My weekends consisted of watching my peers have get-togethers through social media platforms. More often than not, getting mildly disappointed I was not invited despite knowing quarantine was most certainly not the issue as I still referred to them as “peers.”
As a long-term care volunteer at Revera Retirement Living, I was also worried about the well-being of my elderly friends. My role at the retirement home was to provide one-on-one visits to residents and be a compassionate support for both them and their families to enhance their daily living. I feared how isolation would affect their morale, attitude, and mental health. Without the friendly faces of the workers and volunteers that organized games, field trips, and socials, I worried their well-being would be affected regardless of the COVID-19 prevention measures as one’s well-being is determined by more than their physical health. So, it was hard, yet understandable, to think how their enjoyment came second to their self-isolation and safety.
Yet, it was my greatest role model, my 95-year-old great-grandmother, affectionately known as Nana B, who taught me the many ways negativity can cause the mind to dwell on hardships rather than finding the courage to progress with strength through tough and unfamiliar times. She endured the Great Depression during her childhood, worked at a munitions factory at the age of 17, crafting the bullets her brother would load into his rifle from the trenches during World War II. Later at the age of 60, she watched from the beach of Lake Huron as her husband drowned while heroically saving two young boys caught in the undertow. Nana B has and will continue to encourage me to find the points in my life that give me the courage to push through times of heartbreak. She lived her life looking forward, regardless of the challenges and distresses that could have ultimately broken her hope in humanity and unity.
As a writer for Hanover’s local paper, The Post, I am able to make room for the voices and perspectives of youth in our community with my “Youth in Highlight” column. As safety precautions prohibited me from assisting the centre residents, Nana B’s wisdom and ever-so-progressive mindset encouraged me to focus and direct my attention toward the phenomenal front-line workers, whose work frequently goes unrecognized. Bringing to light their courageous and selfless actions, I hoped to illustrate front-line workers’ civic-minded leadership and a profound desire to make a difference in the community. It was my sincere hope that by sharing their stories, which were forever altered by the introduction of the novel coronavirus, it would inspire altruism and vigour among youths in our community. By finding a new purpose in a time of isolation rather than dwelling on the lost opportunities, I developed a new appreciation for those creating support for people at risk.
And perhaps this is the intangible casualty of isolation—opportunities are lost once one’s optimism becomes compromised. But in my experience, these lost opportunities did not hinder my progression; instead, it jumpstarted a refusal to become wedded to the cynical belief that remaining in isolation would be the downfall of my ambitions and contributions to my community.
Optimism and hope are alive today in every UTM student choosing to continue their education and brave the uncertainty of home learning. It shows pure tenacity and a willingness to be flexible in the ever-changing society we have stumbled upon. Finding the silver linings hidden in our sedentary lifestyles taught me to notice and appreciate the moments that I would have otherwise ignored.
So embrace optimism, as pessimism and cynicism brew when it is lacking and cloud the already dark road ahead. Being hopeful about the future, despite the present seeming wholly negative, brings out the beauty in our everyday life and helps illuminate the darkness the world has entered.