My contribution to Earth Day, April 22, 2020.
With sorrow for coronavirus victims—direct and indirect… past, present, and future.
With hope for humankind; hope that we change the things that brought this pandemic upon us.
by Mitchell Toews
It was an average winter. I spent idle days virtual-thumbing through online catalogues, dreaming ready-to-assemble dreams, exercising my PayPal muscles and the Charter of Rights and Free Shipping. But one morning, Janice and I were unnerved — not a little — when we were forced to climb out of bed like U.S. Marines going over the side of a troop carrier in a Turner Classic Movie.
“It’s that shrinking virus,” our doctor’s young voice boomed after a half-hour wait, my damn cell phone now the size and shape of our Trolstrop end table and just as heavy.
Shrinking? But how? This is Canada, not Skull Island! Was this to be our polio? Our influenza? Our Walking Dead, now come to pass?
And it was true. We were shrinking. All — or at least, most of — the people in the world were getting proportionately smaller. Just like The Atom or Ant-Man in the primary colour universe of my pre-teens but without the attendant super-powers. Unable to undo my lifelong sense of divinely assigned supremacy, I felt as though it was not us shrinking, but the rest of the world growing. The world was suddenly upside-down, growing enormous due to some horrendous mistake, through no fault of the people of the Earth.
I frowned through the window at the grinning, darting chickadees. The size of flying monkeys. Disturbed, I imagined a population of mutant human giants — immune, immense — clomping around in Adidas Gazelles the size of actual gazelles; amok in our shrunken Canadianopolises, now Kandors, with no tiny Supergirl, boy or man to protect us. I want to be immune, I thought, a little pouty.
After a month or so, for amusement, Jan and I sit atop our Frukskol serving tray. Its buoyancy — pounded out of a bucket full of ground Amazonian treetops — floated us serenely during our laps around the meltwater in the swimming pool. A cat, swaggering poolside big as a dragon, watches us with yellow eyes and we stay in the middle until it pounces on the mini-deliveryman, here to drop off our latest package of mini-toilet paper rolls. He screams like a robin chick fallen from the nest.
“Maybe we all just need to go back to eating more carbs?” I suggested as we paddled along, making smooth synchronized strokes with our Svart Svan salad serving spoons. The plastic is so light — made with real boreal forest tree flour!
Our desperation grows. We succumb, weary of our teeniness. Despondent in our miniature solitude we sit each evening in the never-ending flickering blue light that shines down upon us like our own personal drive-in movie… reclining, as we do, on a stack of expired Netflix gift cards, we watch the pandemic on TV, eating popcorn puffs the size of cantaloupe. We the shrunken, armed only with our snacks.
“I’m glad about one thing!” I posted online with cheery intent to distant unseen friends in less-effected regions — racing home before they can no longer see over their dashboards. “This malady does not affect our heroes…” I wrote. “Gretzky is as big as ever; he hasn’t shrunk an inch.”
“That CBC interview last night?” A buddy texts me back. “That’s just an old replay. He’s actually the size of an Ütfart flower vase now, I saw him on the news last week.”
How belittling. I find it on YouTube. Gretzky, his hand-puppet sweater tucked in on one side, wearing a Jofa helmet made out of a thimble.
And what about the billionaires? They too have become tiny but, their wealth remains Costco-sized. They urge us to keep doing “normal” things, to keep the economy going despite our dimunuation. “People may shrink but our economy must remain LARGE,” they say with conviction. Right… They don’t have to dodge hungry sea gulls on their way to the Wendy’s drive-thru in a Barbie Star Traveller motor home! We do — we feed the trickle; the trickle-way-way-down.
But then the tide turned. Stealthily, the blessed Tillväxt came among us, lifting Her cloak tails discretely as She crept along, and we began to grow. Praise Tillväxt.
“A long cool woman in a black dress,” one alleged eyewitness reported. Soon after, steady enlargement came announced only by the smallest of shudders, like a cement truck hitting a pothole outside your office building. Humankind began its journey back.
One day, I noticed how it only took me a few minutes to stamp out a text to our daughter, whose small children were like a string of ellipses, following behind her, their 14 pt. ampersand mom. I jump on the keys like Tom Hanks to send out my message, ending with, #feelingweighty. r u guys growing? I ask, with joyous smiley faces on a field of red hearts.
Incrementally, day by day, our statures grew. All of us, around the world. O blessed renewal! Some claimed it was on pace with the mercury in the thermometer. Others cleaved to the ascendant gospel of the Tillväxt, now the third-leading religion worldwide. Sun theory or benign magical Mother Almighty, I welcomed our return to normal and the coming warmth of summer. I could hardly wait to be tall enough to turn on the air conditioning!
Whatever it was that caused it all, whatever the scientists can cipher — once they are again big enough to operate their laboratories and not self-immolate in the flame of their Bunsen burners — the human population enlarged. Jan and I soon found ourselves standing eyeball-to-bullnose with our Fullspäckorp kitchen island countertop. Progress!
Comforted by the unknown natural vaccine, the grace of Tillväxt, or whatever, I luxuriated, expectant, my anticipation sky-high. I relished the mental imagery: Visions of humankind, rising up and reaching outwards like that pansy caught in time-lapse photography on The Nature Channel.
I renewed my password-protected online consumerism but it felt a little off, as though something had changed in me during my big-small-big passage. Disconcerting thoughts filled my head. Packed freeways. Smog-filled urban skies. Jet trails playing Hangman in the sky above. Mountains and forests and glaciers and clean water once again going, going, gone.
Yes, we’ll grow back. We’ll unshrink! Once more the human race will reach titan proportions and resume our species’ ordained privilege; our filthy, greedy, pleasure-dome domination of the planet and its lesser beings — flora, fauna, and anything else we can batter and fry, cut and pulp, exploit and extirpate.
Until that is, the next usurper comes to take away our crown — invited unknowingly by we humans and the havoc we create as we attempt to hold dominion over nature, acting för stor for our britches, as always, I fear.
“Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change.”