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LETTER: Carving out hope in the time of COVID-19

Progress is made on a carving of a puffin, emblazoned with the word “Hope,” earlier this month along a trail near Renews. — Contributed
Progress is made on a carving of a puffin, emblazoned with the word “Hope,” earlier this month along a trail near Renews. — Contributed - Contributed

My salvation, during these trying times, is my morning walk by the ocean. Before I settle down to an overflowing inbox and strive to solve problems without solutions, I step into my time-worn hiking boots, pull on an old windbreaker, and put one foot in front of the other as I stride beside the sea.

There is something reassuring about this timeless tradition. It’s a ritual I embraced long before COVID-19, and one that I hope to practise many years hence. When I am home in Newfoundland, I feel most like myself. It’s not just the sweeping geography, or the pounding of the surf.

It’s a belonging that runs deep in my bones.

My first walk, on my return home from Ottawa, where I work most of the year, was 25 days ago. I walk alone, and I walk briskly. But that morning, something stopped me dead in my tracks. I have always appreciated art, and woodcarving in particular.

Right there, before me, in the middle of a small woodland overlooking the ocean, was the outline of a shape — unmistakably created by human hands.

It looked to be the beginning of a bird, and each morning since, I have pulled on my boots filled with anticipation and something akin to joy. My sunrise walk has taken on a new meaning as I watch this carving slowly take shape.

The progress is slow, but unmistakable.

From a barren stump, something beautiful is emerging. Each morning, through the focus, talent and determination of an unknown artist, it is undergoing an extraordinary transformation.

With each week, it looks more like the fanciful puffins that roam the coastline. I may never know what motivated this faceless craftsman to apply his talents on “my path.” But I’m a fool to think there aren’t lessons to be learned at the hands of our artists – especially those driven to create without an agenda.

Patience. It’s in short supply and it’s undervalued. Nothing worth doing well can be rushed. Today, more than ever before in living memory, we need to hone our ability to recalibrate our expectations for instantaneous results.

Persistence. Try as we might, failure is inevitable. But we cannot let setbacks deter us. We will be imperfect. We will stumble. But we must see our missteps as opportunities to learn. And we must be kind to others — and ourselves — if we wish to emerge stronger and more resilient.

Embrace beauty. Even as the world feels undeniably stark, there is beauty to be found. While we struggle and rail against our losses, there are moments of singular clarity, instances of profound connection and opportunities for boundless compassion.

The carving of the puffin that has given my morning walks new purpose sits proudly upon one word — etched boldly into that once unremarkable tree stump.

That word is hope.

I believe that has always been, and will always be, the most important word we know.

Louise Bradley is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. She writes from Renews.

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