On June 6, I attended the Black Lives Matter rally in Banff.
Wanting to be part of the social solidarity movement demanding human rights and social justice for all, I felt compelled to attend. I thought long and hard about how to attend responsibly and also wondered about the slogan I would add to my poster.
I found a graphic illustration of hands raised with peace signs and added the condensed version of the golden rule: "Human. Kind. Be both."
Like most everyone else in the crowd of 400, I wore a face mask and respected the physical distancing rule of two metres. The masks and distances added to the sombre mood of collective grief, anger and frustration.
The group chanted in call and response fashion:
"No justice, no peace."
"Black Lives Matter."
We slowly marched along Banff Avenue and returned to Central Park to take a knee while the bells tolled 46 times. One bell for every year of George Floyd's life.
I left the gathering feeling lonesome and sad. Maybe those emotions are totally appropriate for my white middle class realities and my melancholy feelings are trivial in the face of such an important struggle against racism and social injustices.
Here's hoping that we are on the brink of significant and tremendously important social changes.
Still, the day after the rally was a rainy Sunday and my depressed mood remained. I grabbed my binoculars and went out for a walk.
Near the Cave and Basin, I found a flock of kingbirds to distract me and noted one other woman, further along the trail. She was enjoying her views of a pair of common yellowthroats.
As I approached, I maintained two meters between us, noting that neither of us were wearing masks. When I got closer, she lowered her binoculars and smiled broadly.
A birders' conversation revealed that she was from out of town, had been to Lake Louise and was looking for a brown creeper. She talked excitedly about the hummingbird nest she had seen as a western wood peewee distracted us.
She kept talking, telling me that her husband was waiting in the car. She readily admitted that their mutual levels of patience had grown thin during the conjugal isolation, but he was still driving her around, reluctantly supporting her bird watching goals.
The chance conversation was a great antidote to my melancholy and her open-hearted conversation gave me a much-needed boost of cheer.
Then she asked, "Have you ever visited Ellis Bird Farm, near Lacombe?"
"No," I replied.
With her chin tilting skyward, she gave a big belly laugh and declared: "Well, hallelujah sister. Sell your clothes, 'cause you're going to heaven."
Obviously, a visit to this Alberta destination is akin to finding bird watchers' paradise and she kept talking.
This chance encounter with a friendly stranger reaffirms what research has proven. Positive social interaction and random acts of kindness are an antidote to feelings of isolation and disconnection.
The correlation between positive social connection and an individual's health and well-being is essential to productivity and engagement. Personal experience confirms that "the connected condition" is an antidote to a stubborn case of the blues.
As we phase ourselves into a reconnected, but socially distanced community of communities, we need to keep washing our hands and staying vigilant.
Wearing a face mask, and standing two meters apart, is a challenge for anyone who already feels marginalized or like an outsider.
It's going to take some extra creativity and effort for all, as we keep asking ourselves to be simultaneously kind, caring, humane and grateful for all of the friends we haven't met yet.
Lorraine Widmer-Carson is a mother, sister, wife, grandmother, writer, philanthropist, nature-enthusiast. Over the years, she has worked for Parks Canada, the Whyte Museum, Friends of BNP, the Banff Centre and supported the Banff Canmore Community Foundation until 2017. She has now started the Gratitude Project, an initiative that weaves gratitude into daily living. Join her community at lwcbanff.ca.