Africana Plus

No28 January 1998.2


Ice storm : The brighter side of the blackout

Bad news gets good coverage. What is this flaw in our nature that makes us see or talk about only the negative side of things? It is not fair, and does not make anyone feel any better. Good news should get better coverage. Sometimes we should be like the sundial that marks the time the sun is shining and ignores the rest.

How about the goodness of people?
The most remarkable thing about them is the good sense and patience they show in times of crisis. They never seem to reach their breaking point. They just carry on through life's difficulties, showing the greatness of their spirit. How many times have we heard them say: "Some people are worse off than we are..." From bedridden hospital patients to homeless people in the street, the same generous sentiment: "Some people are worse off than we are..." The misfortune of others seems to touch them more than their own. They have the gift of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, people never give up hope, against all odds. The recent ice storm that swept across eastern Ontario and western and southwestern Quebec, including Montreal, was ample proof.

Naturally, people were worried and frightened. The cold was unpleasant, there were fears of food shortages, and it was scary to have to leave home and go to a shelter. The sudden plunge into darkness affected young and old and the vulnerable. In spite of everything, concern for others won out over people's concern for their own situation. There was an overwhelming desire to look out for each other. The atmosphere is really different, said one young volunteer. People are talking to each other more and helping each other out. It makes me want to help people who could use a hand.

The ice storm made some of us realize how lucky we were to have heat in our own homes, no lack of food, and all the conveniences of modern life. Life is good here, said an elderly woman at a shelter. She was referring to other parts of the world where they don't enjoy the same commodities.

Even some journalists picked up on the popular feeling. Franco Nuovo wrote in the Journal de Montréal: After all, there are places where there is little hope when darkness falls. Places where, when the army arrives, it's not necessarily to lend a helping hand... after all, there are more horrible horrors and more terrible suffering... here, no one will ever come to cut the throats of our babies. (Journal de Montréal, 9-1-98). And Pierre Foglia wrote in the Montreal daily La Presse: If we didn't have ice storms, how would we know that we're happy? (La Presse, 8-1-98)

Referring in this manner to certain Third World countries that live in constant insecurity makes us appreciate our quality of life in North America, Canada, Quebec. How lucky we are to live in a country where there is peace, freedom of expression, economic and political stability and tolerance. Without the turmoil of tribal warfare and the fear of widespread terrorism, we can go about our everyday lives without much risk:
- We can walk the streets without being afraid of stepping on a land mine. What security!
- We can drive around without having to worry about being shelled or ambushed. What peace of mind!
- We can express an opinion without being thrown into prison or a concentration camp. What freedom!
- We can go shopping without being stopped at every street corner to show our identity papers. What peace!
- We can have a little treat or an evening out without making our family go hungry the next day. What ease!
- We can take weekends off without being fired as a result on Monday. What good fortune!
- We can look forward to living to a ripe old age without fear of succumbing to cholera, malaria or AIDS.

Yes, indeed, some people are worse off than we are. And fortunately, we know it. In fact, we can even compare our lives to drops of freezing rain.
What is a raindrop when it falls on our hand? A splash of water as light as a feather that quickly evaporates. But the drops of freezing rain that accumulate over the hours and are hardened by the winter wind become masses of ice that can block roads, threaten homes, bring down pylons, make rivers and streams overflow their banks. They are like our lives. What is life made up of, after all? Not grand gestures and heroic actions, but little, everyday things, seemingly insignificant, scarcely any bigger than a drop of freezing rain. It's the smile that we give or refuse to give, the word we speak or withhold, the gesture that shows our concern, our indifference or our disdain. Little things, of no consequence taken individually, things we pay no attention to, so focussed are we on our dreams of the great things we will do. But little things that nonetheless build up one on top of the other and weigh upon us, a weight that will bring us to life or death.

Where does this wisdom come from? Perhaps from our parents and grandparents who learned the hard way that concern and cooperation were essential. They knew that if love was not the supreme law, then the entire body would fall apart and break into a million pieces. Because if we don't carry other people in our hearts, then we will almost always end up carrying them on our backs. Our forebears have handed down a tradition of sharing that brings people together, and makes even the poorest man a prince.

Yes, people here know how lucky they are. Yes, they are aware of the sufferings of others. Yes, they want to help out. They are moved by images of war and atrocity, famine and nakedness, isolation and the plight of refugees. Their hearts are in the right place, and they know how to roll up their sleeves and work together when they have to. They are also ready to open their hearts and their wallets when there is a need. We can be proud of ourselves. Even if nature sheds tears of ice over this part of the country, it can't take away our smiles. A truth that brings a little lustre to the name of humanity, so frequently disparaged.

Michel Fortin, M.Afr.

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