It’s been a challenging week to say the least. I look out the window waiting for the sunshine and warmth to come out while listening to the ghastly news stories unfold. An unspeakable sadness and heartache has enveloped our province following the mass shooting last weekend. Certainly the COVID-19 backdrop complicates things further. Those of us working in first responder roles and helping professions face a double challenge: We take care of the needs of others at work, and then return home where we continue to be immersed in the emotional wake of what has happened. With most of us working from home, the usual separation between family life and work life no longer exists.
Like many, I sometimes wake up in the night, processing recent events. Once I’m able to push beyond the shock and horror of the situation, I find myself contemplating the qualities that make Nova Scotian’s particularly well equipped to survive this. I find these thought reassuring, and thought I’d take a moment to share them with you:
1.We take care of one another
Nova Scotia has its cities, but for the most part, we are a series of connected villages and towns. We value our neighbours, and our impulse during hardship is to reach out and care for one another. Yesterday at the end of the working day I found a bottle of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice sitting on my step. No note, just the gift. Our family sat around the dinner table trying to figure out who it came from. We honestly didn’t know, as we were aware it could be from one of many neighbours or people in our community. A text later in the day identified the giver (thanks Monica). That’s Nova Scotia for you. Acts of kindness are the norm, not the exception.
2.We are welcoming
I have lived in this province for twelve years. Like many, I came from away. Despite that, when I first moved here, I was struck by how immediately it felt like home. People welcomed me like family. Even those who were born here often have to travel elsewhere for work. We have a disproportionate percentage of military members living in this province relative to the rest of the country, many who have lived throughout Canada (and the world). Our RCMP members are accustomed to moving. Out of necessity, we’ve learned how to get comfortable and acquainted quickly. We know how to throw a kitchen party, and we know how to come together, despite restrictions of physical distancing.
3.We are compassionate
Everyone has their own unique response to this tragedy. I have heard many people use the word “gutted” so deep is their loss. Anger is a common response, yet the bigger reaction is love and compassion. It’s astonishing how many people have chosen hearts (not hatred) to symbolize their response to the tragedy. We speak lovingly and appreciatively of the contribution of community members whose lives were lost, paying little heed to he who shall not be named.
4.We are problem solvers
In the past I have spoken with people who work “away.” Out West on the oil rigs, or overseas on deployment. I consistently hear feedback that employers or military leaders love people from the Maritimes. When faced with a challenge, such as a broken machine, Nova Scotians don’t tend to sit back and wait for the part. They are famous for “MacGuivering” and adapting to overcome obstacles. Probably an offshoot of learning to make do during times of scarcity.
5.We are resourceful
During this COVID pandemic, I’m struck by the number of people who have planted gardens. Anticipating the possibility of scarcity, we plan ahead, ensure we will have enough produce not just for ourselves, but also for our neighbours. I’ve learned that if you save the stalk of a romaine lettuce and plant it in water, a new head will grow. My window ledge is filled with lush romaine heads, pushing their way to health, oblivious of the challenges around them. In our house, we laughingly refer to this as the rise of our Romaine Empire. A symbol, I think, of resilience.
6.We never lose our sense of humour
Even when we’re down, we know how to laugh. My Romaine Empire is destined to join the other vegetables I’ve grown from seed in what I jokingly refer to as my “Doomsday Garden.” Our neighbour recently posted a hilarious video of himself going to work in the morning suit and tie on, leaving the back door and entering his house from the side, greeting his family as though they were co-workers. Even when the chips are down, we’re there for one another with a smile and words of encouragement.
7.We recognize our strength comes from community
We have two programs currently running: Emotions Management and Healthy Living. In both of these groups, we had the chance to process our feelings regarding the hardships and losses of the recent tragedy. Some of our first responder group members are still active duty and were immediately involved. Many people knew Heidi Stevenson on a person level. Others were friends or coworkers of community members who lost their lives. We’re a small province with very few degrees of separation. As people summoned the courage to share their experiences, we felt the divide that separated us lessen. There was recognition that we were all in the shit together. No-one had to save or fix anyone, we were just able to make space, without judgement, witnessing and supporting one another.
8.We are action oriented.
Many of us are current or former first responders, helping professions or caregivers. In times of hardship, our immediate impulse is to be operational, setting aside our personal needs in service of others. Many active duty first responders I work with had to cancel their personal appointments this week as they are busy responding to the needs of others. They have been coming in proactively, doing resiliency building work to protect themselves against the repeated effects of workplace trauma exposure. They know to take action to stay healthy. For those who cannot be operational, they know the solution lies in being relational…reaching out and connecting with one another.