Calgary's beloved folk fest is cancelled for 2020. Photo: Ron Sparrow/Calgary Folk Music Festival

Losing our summer — and finding it again

The small joys are even more important now.

Patience is a virtue, but it's not one that modern society encourages. Our world is built around immediacy. Many of us, myself included, have forgotten how to wait.

But here we are, in 2020, isolated in our homes, told that the best thing to do is to avoid going out. We're to avoid meeting our friends and family until we “flatten the curve” and control a pandemic without overwhelming our healthcare system.

From a culture of instant gratification, we've been asked to switch on a moment's notice to one of extended delay. Worse yet, we've been asked for the hardest kind of patience—one that lacks even the clarity of a clear timeline.

We're like kids waiting for Christmas, without knowing whether Christmas is weeks, months, or even years away.

The lingering beauty of what we've lost

When isolation began, many of us at least had a clear idea of what that Christmas looked like. If a shutdown had to happen, at least it was in an interminable March that refused to give way to spring.

There was so much to look forward to when our doors re-opened.

Calgary is already used to hibernating in the winter and coming to life in the summer. In June, Sled Island fills the downtown with music and bicycles, bringing a vibrant energy that lingers for months.

In July, the Calgary Folk Music Festival creates an island village in the heart of the city, founded on eclectic performers, fabulous food, and the bonding feeling of a shared experience. The Stampede and the Calgary Expo both bring a mix of parades, celebrity guests and fantasy dress-up, albeit with very different feelings.

Whichever is your favourite, there was likely at least some point in the past month when it was your beacon, a light in the distance to get you through a stretch of darkness.

One by one, though, our beacons have disappeared.

Every one of those events has now had its 2020 edition cancelled, and countless more have joined them in cancellation or indefinite postponement.

It isn't just events that are going away. While the festivals and celebrations will return in 2021, local businesses are disappearing forever.

As a Sunnysider until quite recently, I'm finding it hard to picture Kensington without Oak Tree or Midtown, but neither will be there when the COVID-19 restrictions subside (both announced permanent closures this week).

Other favourite haunts are bound to close, too. Exactly what kind of Calgary we'll be left with is increasingly unclear.

These gatherings address deeper needs in us

Patience is a virtue, but even the most virtuous among us would find this trying.

Fantasizing about a return to normal is a natural way of coping, but a fragile one, too—it's vulnerable to every closure and cancellation. If this week has made anything clear, it's that getting through this by daydreaming of doing X and going to Y is unlikely to pay off.

A different kind of patience is needed, one based in something more resilient.

What exactly that means isn't obvious. In fact, it echoes a question that has been at the heart of philosophical exploration for centuries, if not millennia: What makes for a good life?

A different kind of patience is needed, one based in something more resilient.

The fact we anticipate these events and treasure these places means they address deeper needs in us for gathering, celebrating, and revelling. We wait for them because we're eager to experience moments of beauty, connect to tradition, and bond over shared interests.

It's those needs, not the events themselves, that will see us to the other side of quarantine.

Trading Folk Fest for a socially distanced picnic with a portable stereo may sound like a classic example of lowered expectations—but adjusting expectations to reflect reality is one of the healthiest coping mechanisms we have.

Still holding out hope, despite everything

I'm skeptical of anyone who refers to this crisis as an opportunity, especially considering how unequally it affects different social strata, and how even with the plethora of newly announced social supports, the ability to isolate at home remains rooted in privilege.

But if not an opportunity, it's at least a re-framing: one that has helped highlight how meaningful the smallest joys can be. A phone call from a friend. The feeling of sunlight on your face after days stuck indoors.

This crisis has helped highlight how meaningful the smallest joys can be.

These tiny things feel larger now because they aren't overshadowed by the abundance of other instant pleasures. That doesn't make the happiness they bring any less real and any less sustaining.

I'm still holding out hope for this summer. I may not have Folk Fest, but I can still have music and friends in one form or another.

If I can hear my friends' voices through something other than a speaker, share a meal with my family, or sit near a campfire with my partner, I'll find a victory in that.

Call it lowered expectations, call it taking pleasure in simplicity. Call it what you want—it's still something to look forward to.

Peter Hemminger is a Calgary writer, editor, cultural worker and arts advocate whose work aims to encourage a more open, collaborative and idiosyncratic culture. Formerly the music and film editor at Fast Forward Weekly, he is executive director for the Quickdraw Animation Society.

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