As I sat at the back of the opera house at Meaford Hall prior to Monday's council meeting, the theatre was all but silent with just a few municipal staffers quietly preparing for the start of the meeting. During this quiet moment I found myself reflecting on the year we have all been experiencing.
My thoughts began with Meaford Hall itself. Long the subject of at times heated debate, Meaford Hall can be a polarizing topic in this town. While many love the facility, many others despise it and all the money that was spent to overhaul it some 15 years ago. No matter your personal thoughts about Meaford Hall, the reality is that in recent years the facility was coming into its own. Concerts, plays, and other events were plentiful, and sell-outs had become a common occurrence. In short, Meaford Hall was thriving, and then COVID-19 arrived.
Since the virus barged into our lives, Meaford Hall has sat largely idle. No big name performers coming through town, no community theatre groups entertaining their friends and neighbours, no sold out concerts, and no art exhibits in the galleries. Instead the Hall has been mostly silent; it is almost creepy wandering through the lifeless facility.
In the opera house, black and yellow caution tape bars the use of many of the seats in an effort to maintain social distancing, arrows taped to the floor indicate the directions that we should travel, and the names of all who enter are recorded by municipal staff just in case contact tracing is needed later on.
At the conclusion of the meeting, as I exited the building I stopped for a moment to scan Sykes Street. It was only 5:30, but the street, like Meaford Hall, was virtually silent. There was no hustle and bustle, no energy. What restaurants were open were only able to cater to a fraction of the patrons they served prior to COVID-19, and even with the limited ability to dine in, many are still opting to stick close to home as we ride out this pandemic.
Before heading home, I went for a little drive as I continued to reflect on this strange year. The arena was a ghost town, as was the curling club across the street. I drove down the 7th Line, past a dark and silent Riverside Hall. I then headed over to Bognor where I found their community hall to also be lifeless, as was Woodford Hall, which I drove past on my way back home.
No clubs meeting in our community halls, no hockey teams competing against each other, no throngs of music enthusiasts heading into Meaford Hall for a performance. Silence.
On my passenger seat sat a copy of last week's paper. Upon returning home, before grabbing my gear and heading inside, I flipped through that paper, and saw the drive-thru graduations for our Grade 8 and 12 students, many of the faces in the photos covered by masks. I saw the article informing of the cancellation of the curling season, I saw the debate about what to do about Halloween, and I re-read the report of a fundraising concert forced to go virtual. In just one issue, eight months into this crisis, it was pretty depressing given the reflecting had been doing.
It is true that in Grey-Bruce we have escaped the worst of the virus. Our number of positive tests have been few, and we haven't seen any deaths resulting from COVID-19 thus far, but I think it is fair to say that what the virus has managed to do is to rip the heart and soul out of our daily lives. And after eight months, many of us are emotionally exhausted, and we are all eager for this entire ordeal to come to some sort of conclusion, though best estimates are that we are still months away from any sort of return to normalcy.
As a result, many of us are exhausted, or depressed, or agitated. Many are on edge, and quick to engage in arguments they might previously have avoided. Drug overdoses are up, domestic disputes are on the rise, many are still uncertain about the future of their jobs. The impact of this pandemic has been great indeed.
Again, based on the statistics, in our neck of the woods we have seen very few infections, and compared to most of the rest of the province, if we strictly focus on infections we should be pleased as punch, we should be thankful, and I think most of us are.
But don't let anyone suggest that we have escaped the virus completely, because we are all paying a very high price, and the number of infections aside we are all currently trapped in a depressing, uncertain ordeal, with no defined end in sight, so I think we can all be forgiven for being a little cranky, a little fed up, and even a little angry. But let's all be nice to one another, let's give each other support. We've made it this far – the end has to arrive eventually.