Sarah Simpson Column: Stay back…turns into goodbye for now

It was a surreal encounter.

OK. I wasn’t going to write directly about it but the honest truth is that this is life right now. COVID-19 is all-consuming and it’s alright to admit that. It’s not just a Cowichan thing, it’s a world thing. It doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, and the latest studies are showing that it’s not just an ‘old people’ virus. We are all at risk. We all have to do our part not just to stay away from each other and flatten the curve but to get the heck out of the way so that the health care providers can do their thing unobstructed.

It’s been hard to walk the line between panic and prepared. I’ve felt it with my own family. I’ve felt guilty for going and shopping for my family of four for two weeks instead of one because my cart looked particularly full. I wasn’t panicked and hoarding by any means. I was preparing to not have to visit the store again for a week because staying away is what I can do to help.

I work at the newspaper. During times like this, I feel like we are more or less an essential service. No, we aren’t here saving lives like the doctors and nurses are, but like us or don’t like us, we are one of your sources for local information and when crises hit, we are doing our very best to get you the latest information. Our papers may only come out twice a week but we are constantly updating our website. We work a lot. Even when we’re not working we’re working.

“There are lots of news releases when you’re preparing to shut down a whole society, isn’t there?” my colleague Robert Barron said the other day. He’s right. And as soon as we write a story, we have to go back and update it because that’s how fast things are changing.

Anyway, it’s a new world out there and it’s a strange one and we here at the paper are still going to the office.

I worked on Friday and around 1 p.m. I opted to get outside for some fresh air. It was a ghost town in downtown Duncan. I walked to one of the pharmacies in town to pick up a soda. I hadn’t been into a store in a week.

I felt like I was in a movie scene.

I walked through the automatic door and into the empty shop. From down the aisle, the clerk nodded at me and I said “hello”. It’s a pandemic, yes, but not an excuse for being unpleasant. Anyway, as I was getting my drink the clerk moved toward the cash register, all the while pulling pink medical-style gloves over her hands. Woah. I thought to myself. I hadn’t really expected that.

And then we danced a very awkward dance.

I stood away from the counter as she stepped closer and pushed the item scanner in my direction. She stepped back and I stepped closer to scan my own items, not even setting them down on the counter. I stepped back and she moved forward to prepare the debit machine before giving way to me once more so I could complete the process and wave my card over the reader.

It was a surreal encounter.

I walked out of the automatic doors and back into the empty streets. I thought about what had just happened. This was not life as usual, even though I knew at that very moment “regular” life was happening back at home. My children had plugged the toilet with toilet paper and flooded our bathroom and hallway. I guess I should have better explained to them the gravity of the world’s toilet paper situation.

It’s hard to navigate all of the feelings that have been coming up with regard to the state of the world. It’s been hard to explain to the kids about “the virus” and why we can ride our bikes outdoors with our friends but not have playdates.

“Six feet!” we hear them yell at each other. “Stay back!”

Anyway, all this to say goodbye. So, hopefully I’ll talk to you again. But for now, I have to stay back because I’ve been laid off.


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