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COMMENTARY: A reporter’s reflections during a pandemic

In April, a woman with a mask walks along Freshwater Road in St. John's while on the opposite side of the street, a "Six feet part or six feet under" sign flaps on a utility pole. The metro scene this summer is vastly different as COVID-19 restrictions eased and cases plumetted to zero most days. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
In April, a woman with a mask walks along Freshwater Road in St. John's while on the opposite side of the street, a "Six feet part or six feet under" sign flaps on a utility pole. The metro scene this summer is vastly different as COVID-19 restrictions eased and cases plumetted to zero most days. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM

Once upon a time, we used to collect menus and pin them to our dorm apartment wall, along with quirky posters and bumper stickers.

We danced at a place called The Office in downtown Halifax.

We went to classes, of course. But we laughed the rest of the time, played Trivial Pursuit with our neighbours and yes, drinking games for cheap draft beer at whatever pub had the best deal.

We were “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

But I remember us worrying if we would get fined at the end of the year for making all those pinholes in the walls on St. Mary’s University property.

Ah, to have those worries again.

Still, there was a whole lot of angst about what the future would look like — what career would we land?

It was the 1980s and the employment landscape was a bit tough.

But I landed in journalism eventually, made a career of it.

Any writer of any kind feels things intensely — you do a lot of weeping for humanity, whether in words or thoughts, or genuine tears.

On March 27, The Telegram published my commentary, “Life as a reporter in Newfoundland and Labrador during COVID-19.”

No one knew what our world here and the world itself would look like then.

I didn’t expect to feel a bit emotional when I saw racks of prom dresses. I am definitely not one for frilly dresses. But it was a reminder of all that has been missed this year for so many people. No proms. No Regatta. No live music festivals. No Pride parade. No street-pounding traditional running of the Tely 10.

It was a bizarre time — shuttered stores, darkened restaurants, empty roads.

“Even though I keep my social distance and identify myself, I feel guilty for even being outside somedays, taking photos or trying to do my job of describing our world during this crisis,” I wrote.

“The rapidly changing landscape plays on my mind every minute of every day.”

Of course, things have changed — parks, beaches and roads are busy again, the shopping mall is crowded, people don’t social distance as much in grocery stores; not all wear masks or follow those arrows.

When I did a story on the Avalon Mall reopening weeks ago, I stopped in a store where staff were shifting around the old winter stock to spring wear.

I didn’t expect to feel a bit emotional when I saw racks of prom dresses. I am definitely not one for frilly dresses.

But it was a reminder of all that has been missed this year for so many people. No proms. No Regatta. No live music festivals. No Pride parade. No street-pounding traditional running of the Tely 10.

How many times have I read or heard the phrase “2020 sucks”?

It’s pretty easy to think that way — it certainly has had a bullseye on so many, including the victims of COVID-19, the Nova Scotia massacre victims and their families, those affected by the police shootings in the United States amid continuing racial inequality, and the horrific destruction in Beirut after the chemical storehouse explosion.

If you factor in any family tragedies, health crises, personal turmoil, plain bad luck and of course, economic setbacks for business and employees, it’s indeed been a crappy year.

To me, it still feels like COVID-19 could turn any which way, even with the best of intentions.

Good intentions have not been present in the U.S., where President Donald Trump and other leaders resisted heeding the best of advice. Cases soared and as of this week, deaths were averaging 1,000 per day in America, according to CNN.

Which is why I have been thinking about those long-ago university days.

Because I have been worrying about friends in the U.S.

I am also perplexed by the right-to-not-wear-a-mask movement.

One morning this week, I watched a news item about a teenage employee at a Pennsylvania theme park who was assaulted after reminding a couple to wear masks. According to NBC, he has a displaced jaw and will require surgery.

The place is called Sesame Park, on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

It’s crazy to even imagine someone visiting a park that celebrates the beloved TV show, “Sesame Street,” which promotes peace, love, acceptance, tolerance, and belting a teenager over mask-wearing, a gesture meant to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the negativity of this crappy year, I still hope that we be kinder people to one another as shared inhabitants of this planet.

Some days it is easy to think that can’t happen.

But we can make a difference in our own world at home.

I know that sounds kind of corny, but as a reporter, stories about people who do make a difference in their communities are still the greatest stories to tell.

Barb Sweet is a senior reporter at The Telegram who can be reached at barbara.sweet@thetelegram.com. Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets

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