Recently, my sister introduced me to the term “false flat.” The phrase, coined by bicyclists, refers to a stretch that appears to offer easy riding but actually inclines uphill. The rider is seduced into expecting an effortless peddle but instead has to keep pumping. When you’ve anticipated coasting, it makes the ride that much harder.
I knew exactly what a false flat was when I heard the term because there’s one on the Galena Trail by my house. When I walk north, I rarely notice that the path dips slightly. It’s the trip back when that tiny uphill is obvious and tiring.
Lately, it seems that we have hit a collective false flat. We’ve had months of isolation and unpredictability. We’ve seen pictures of overflowing hospitals and mass graves, worried about impacts on elderly and children, debated over the use of masks. B.C. flattened the curve–and has started back up. Unbelievably, this is not over.
While our communities brim with vacationers who seem to have forgotten COVID-19, the virus is not on vacation. Dr. Bonnie Henry is still asking us to limit our social lives, wear a mask, wash our hands, keep our distance.
We’ve got a long way to go, and not only in terms of waiting for a vaccine or herd immunity. COVID-19 has laid bare our skewed economic and social underpinnings. Add uncertainty about the eventual shape of our world—fascist states or sustainable, localized economies? racial inequity or true justice? —to the pandemic and it’s a bit overwhelming.
Some days, I don’t do so well with all this, and I don’t think that I’m the only one. Normally pleasant people are losing their tempers in public. Depression and anxiety are rampant. Xenophobia directed at Albertans is at an all-time high! We’re all tired. We all expected it to be over by now.
So let’s concentrate on what’s important. First, are you having fun? Have you learned something new and interesting, or gone camping with your bubble, or started playing croquet in the yard? Are you trading fresh vegetables, reading out loud with a beloved friend, jumping in the lake? This is the time to take good care of ourselves.
Second, any time things come apart, what’s left is contested space. This hard time is also our opportunity: we can decide how things should come back together, how we will treat each other, what shape our economic and social life will take. It’s time to start pumping again; but with compassion for our poor tired selves. There’s a long way to go.
As this false flat stretches out ahead, it helps to remember that we are in it together. Everyone’s world has been shaken. This is the time to cultivate the capacity to forgive, to be patient, to keep our own side of the street clean. Hard days are just part of the path. Whatever helps—hiking, meditating, gardening, singing, or even bike riding!—please practice it: for your own sake, the sake of our communities and the sake of our planet.