The Silence is Deafening by Benjamin Rempel

When self-isolation measures were first enacted, five-year-old Vivian seemed excited about the whole thing. A new experience, unique to this time and place. She was playing with her mom, she yelled from her porch, so all was good. She rode her scooter up and down the driveway when the sun was out; hung drawings across her wide front window when it was time to come in.

Not everyone was as excited though. “Why shut down the entire country?” my Toronto neighbor lamented. “You can’t stop everyone from working! Our economy will be in the toilet!” He’s on a roll, his porch a soapbox, a captive audience with nowhere else to go. “This is an overreaction!”

Is he correct? I listen to Trudeau and Trump give their press conferences followed by the vast media analysis. Are we getting all the facts? Do we know the whole story? We think we know. We hope we know.

“Besides,” my neighbor continued, “what happens when the next virus hits? Do we close the country every time someone gets sick?”

The following day my wife’s friend posts that her small business is closing and all employees will be laid off. A colleague of mine admits she has a month of savings before she reaches the tipping point. I shudder to think what she means by ‘the tipping point’.

A couple of days pass and few people are spotted on their porches. Vivian’s window drawings have ceased, the curtains pulled tight most of the day. “I think the missing laughter is the most jarring,” I sigh to my wife, staring upon the empty driveways.

Quarantine continues. My kids lose patience. My anxiety peaks. I reflect back on the street party last August; chatty neighbors and rambunctious kids flooding the road for a day of water balloon fights and potluck. Now, everything is still; the sidewalks silent.

Is everyone ferreted away in their basements trying to cope with despair and depression? Community has always been a strong antidote for grief, but community seems to be in short supply these days. Church has been cancelled along with all the sports and social clubs my kids take part in. I understand the measures. It’s a small price to pay to keep loved ones safe. But I’m confident there will be loads of mental health research all suggesting the spring of 2020 as a common causality.

Later, my wife answers a call from her grandmother. “This too shall pass,” I hear her say. It’s a small gesture but serves as a good reminder, something I needed to hear.

I stand and look across the street as a shadow flashes across Vivian’s window. I squint but the movement is gone, likely just a trick of the light. But I imagine it to be Vivian, busily sketching another colorful portrait to slap up on the glass. Or perhaps she has simply stepped away for a moment, tying her laces, giggling with anticipation; preparing to give her scooter another go.

The Light in a Pandemic Spring by Franzisco Hauser. CC license.

Benjamin Rempel
Benjamin Rempel is a Toronto-based writer focused on public health and social justice issues. His articles and essays have been featured in The Toronto Star, Abilities Magazine, SEE Change Magazine, and other outlets. Contact him at

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