By Ilse Turnsen
I was sailing along on my bicycle behind the Wakefield General Store when a decision to make room for pedestrians resulted in my skittering along the railroad tracks, as many cyclists have. Unluckily my ribcage collided with a bit of protruding track which left me writhing in pain (yup: four broken ribs) and led to a chain of events which dramatically demonstrated the power of a caring community and left my heart full of gratitude and inspiration: an apt story for Thanksgiving 2020.
There are no strangers here only friends you haven’t met:
People from out of town enjoying an escape from the city came to my rescue and phoned 911, comforting me as I lay there wondering if my life had just changed forever. I was confined during the weeks to come, but my front veranda faces Chemin Gendron and I was privy to a gloriously diverse parade of people sauntering toward the covered bridge. People from all over: Africa, the Balkans, Asia and South America. I waved and called out “welcome!” The universal response was: “It’s so beautiful here! What a wonderful place!” I couldn’t agree more, but complacency is not warranted. As Adrian Kiva wrote in the local newspaper, The Low Down, a few weeks ago, ” let us engage in conversations and actions that address racism and embrace a vision of vivid, inclusive, mutual appreciation and respect.”
What keeps us safe?
The young police officer who responded to the 911 call knelt by my side, gently removed my helmet, and cradled my head in his hands. “Don’t worry – you’re safe – I’m here: I’ll stay with you until the ambulance arrives.” He treated me with such respect and tenderness, I could have been his own grandmother. Every grandmother – every person – deserves to be treated like this, but we know that this is not the case. Community-led, life affirming police protection in a context of redistributed adequate, stable funding for social and mental health services. Now that’s what I call public safety.
What is essential? What really matters?
I didn’t have to worry, as I lay on the tracks, about how to pay for it all. Publicly funded health care equally accessible to everyone is the cornerstone of a just society. The ambulance arrived and the saintly paramedics conveyed my broken body to the Wakefield Memorial Hospital. (An institution made possible by Harold Geggie’s dream and years of community fund raising) I was competently seen to by nurses and doctors, but it was a member of the cleaning staff who noticed, while mopping the corridor, that I was sitting forlornly unattended to after the diagnosis and prescriptions had been dispensed. “My son has no way of knowing where I am right now,” I whispered. She conveyed the message to the waiting room where Ryan was sitting . Is she properly honoured for her essential work? COVID-19 has revealed how many workers, including nurses and care workers are under-acknowledged and underpaid. We need them! They all deserve dignified status, a living wage, safe working conditions, an affordable place to live.
It takes a village to heal us and keep us whole:
Ryan, Sarah and Peter – my noble offspring worked out a schedule to help me through the long, hot weeks of my July convalescence. Colleagues and friends brought gifts of food and healing. In spite of COVID-19 community services and all the brave front-line workers in our fields and villages supported me. Local farms, businesses, associations, neighbors and friends are a treasure in our midst. Mutual care keeps our community heartbeat strong. I am so grateful to be living here. Let us continue to support one another and forge creative solutions during this strange and difficult time.
Lest we forget:
While convalescing I re-read a beloved novel: Mink River by a west coast author, Brian Doyle. A community made up of indigenous people and settlers embraces an ethos that public works include honouring and protecting all the deer and bear trails that crisscross the village and the water, fields and forests. Talk about a life-sustaining perspective. As my mobility returned I would enter the little forest near my home and breathe with the trees. We are connected. Natural systems sustain life: our hills; our rivers and lakes; our wetlands; our forests; our farmlands; one another – an economy based on extraction and exploitation cannot.
Recovery, Reparation and Repair:
My ribs have healed! And now to turn to the ongoing work! We are still facing a pandemic; a climate crisis; a fractured society. My experience and the Green New Deal lens provide a perspective for solving our problems. Solutions from the ground-up in the context of courageous leadership willing to face the crises and act accordingly are needed. The means to do so are available. The work will be challenging, but profits siphoned off the top can instead be reinvested where they belong: in thriving, flourishing communities committed to climate justice, social justice, racial justice and mutual caring. Therein lies inclusive, genuine economic resilience. My thanksgiving vision is that we can and will do this work together with no one left behind.
Thanks to members of the La Pêche Coalition for a Green New Deal, The La Pêche Womens’ March Network, the LaPêche Global Forest Initiative, the Twin Hearts meditation group and the Wakefield Grannies for delicious suppers when I was most vulnerable; to the healers who restored me; for locally grown foods bursting with vitality that were available; to Juniper Farm/Roots and Shoots/Neil Woods/ Ferme et Forêt/Ferme Léve-Tot/Alska Farm/Lastholme Farm for nurturing me; for the fantastic service and food offered by the Wakefield General store and La Forêt; to Brunet Pharmacy for delivering the pain-relieving medication; to the Low Down for working through the pandemic to keep me informed; to Biblio Wakefield Library for providing books; to the CLSC and the Wakefield Emergency Fund for being there in case I needed you; to our educators and families for your crucial care of our children; to all the artists and musicians for nourishing my soul; to Sentiers Wakefield for laying a mat across that piece of track; for Bearing Witness for its work toward Truth and Reconciliation; to Franktown flowers for the beautiful bouquet; to our municipality and its green fund and initiatives; to CEDEC, the MRC, the Municipality of La Pêche and Wakefield Together for consultations about affordable housing; to ABV des 7 and Friends of the Gatineau River for protecting our lakes and rivers; to Fairbairn Heritage Centre for the Mondays which brought me joy when I was at my lowest. Gratitude abounds. It is a privilege to live among you!