Reality check: Having things to look forward to is a privilege

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By Nancy Payne

Nancy Payne grew up on a farm near Reaboro and now lives northeast of Lindsay. A magazine editor, a former CBC Radio producer and a freelance writer and editor, she never ceases to be amazed at the fascinating people and places of Kawartha Lakes.

I’m a pretty positive person, and I literally give thanks every day for my good fortune during the pandemic. Most of my home-based work continues unchanged and I’m able to walk as much as I want around our home in the country northeast of Lindsay.

There’s food in the fridge, firewood for the stove, and above all, my immediate and extended family are healthy.

Nancy Payne, associate editor.

I’d thought I’d pretty much vanquished the early fears of the unknown, and overcome the disappointment that accompanied all the cancellations and limitations. But then came a harder day. Nothing major: a small work setback, the realization that after six weeks of not seeing my dad (huge gratitude to Adelaide Place for its diligence!) I likely won’t be able to hug him for months yet to come, a webinar delayed half an hour and then cancelled.

That evening, after my usual journal entry summarizing the day and noting a couple of things I was grateful for, I scribbled two sentences at the top of the page. “Can’t plan anything. Can’t look forward to anything.”

All the losses I thought I’d made peace with ganged up and rolled over me. The cancelled French immersion course in Quebec. My beloved, cancelled, Stratford Festival. No in-person church services, no end-of-year book club dinner, no work-cation trips to Toronto, no Blue Jays games, no day trips or weekend getaways. “Can’t plan anything. Can’t look forward to anything.”

It was on the next morning’s walk that the realization hit me. It’s not just that going to baseball games and hotels is the preserve of the privileged. (Although I do feel I need to say that our family has made a conscious effort over the past few years to forego “stuff” gifts in favour of experiences, especially shared ones.)

Rather, what dawned on me was the awareness that being able to plan for the future is in itself a privilege. Having something to look forward to is in itself a luxury. Planning ahead, especially for entertainment or travel, can only happen when you know you’ll have food on the table and a place to live in the meantime. Only because we’re fortunate enough to have the basics covered, and because we’re healthy, do we ever get to mull over what we might want to do down the road.

Choices about the future require income and freedom. Buying a ticket to a concert in six months is a leap of faith you can’t take when you’re preoccupied with finding a job or whether you can afford boots for your kids. Planning a big family reunion picnic is not top of mind when you’re a woman trapped in isolation with your abuser.

I can’t believe I never really saw this before — how incredibly lucky I am to be able to contemplate the future when so many people’s circumstances mean they can’t think beyond getting through today. Our family is not wealthy, but we’re able to take it for granted that we can afford tickets to Bobcaygeon’s Globus Theatre or a celebratory meal at the Riverside Inn in Norland, and, as freelancers, can arrange our time to make it happen.

The fun of planning something, the pleasure of looking forward to it — how did I not understand until now what gifts they are and how fortunate I am to have them? This new awareness is embarrassing, yes, but it’s time to get over that and start being grateful for these luxuries hiding in plain sight.

This is emphatically not another glib platitude about “the lessons the pandemic has to teach us.” Realistically, I’m probably going to end up pouting in self-pity someday when I’ve once again forgotten my bedrock privileges of health, safety, food, home, time spent in nature, and work.

But I’m also going to add two new items to the long list of things I’m thankful for: the ability to plan ahead, and the anticipation of enjoyment to come.

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