Late yesterday afternoon, the COVID-19 statistics for Canada looked like this:
One person had died in my country. I tried to imagine who that one person was. Perhaps it was a mother from Newfoundland, or someone’s petite soeur from Québec, or a farmer from the prairies, or a former lighthouse keeper on the British Columbia coast.
Somewhere in my country yesterday a family was grieving.
This morning I checked the stats. At the time I started writing, there were +1481 new deaths worldwide.
I tried to imagine who those people were. Perhaps they were mothers from Florida, or someone’s petites soeurs from France, or farmers in Russia, or former lighthouse keepers in Australia.
Just now I reloaded the page, and it looks like this. In the last half hour the number increased by +1.
Somewhere in the world a family is grieving.
The number +1 allows us to try to imagine that person. We can empathize. When the number is much larger, it becomes impossible to draw individuals in our minds. The empathy thins out or disappears. But we can’t forget that the large number is made up of 1s.
Last autumn’s leaves have not yet composted, so they cover the parts of the path that aren’t muddy. The trees in my Ottawa, Canada climate are budding, but branches are still bare of leaves. Muted colours of grey and brown and dark forest green dominate.
I rounded a corner in the path. Up ahead, white leaves fluttered on a single tree. With branches stretched out in a triangular shape, the leaves resembled the flickering lights of a Christmas tree.
I stopped to appreciate it. I walked closer to examine the leaves. I thought about another of Robert MacFarlane’s words: marcescence. It can refer to trees that hold on to leaves through winter, or people who wither but don’t fall.
Others might have passed by without noticing the simple gift of nature. I’m glad that I walk mindfully, on the lookout for sparks of light on my path.
If we’re watchful, we can perceive those little boosts to the spirits. They help us duringtimes when we’re withering, so we don’t fall.