We’re adjusting to the “new normal”—life during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past month, we’ve faced new challenges, seen people come together to help one another, and adapted our lives around new rules that are keeping us all healthy and safe. In this unique moment, we have an opportunity to reflect on what matters most and what we can learn from this experience.

Mike Bonikowsky works at a community living organization in Ontario and has been supporting people with developmental disabilities for more than ten years. In a recent article, he shared his perspective on how the pandemic has changed life for him and the people he supports.

Each morning, their expressions and vocalizations are a little more anxious and a little more intense than when I left them the previous afternoon. Each morning, I answer their questions: Can we go out today? No, I’m sorry, we can’t. When can we go out again? We just have to take it one day at a time. Why can’t we? Because we could get sick. Is it just us? No. It’s the entire human race.

These questions are the same ones we’re all asking. We all want to know when life will go back to normal, but it’s going to take time. Meanwhile, people and organizations are doing their best to cope with physical distancing measures. Many of us are missing the gatherings we usually enjoy, from concerts and entertainment to get-togethers with friends. But for some, Mike points out, social isolation is a part of everyday life.

Though not of their own choosing, social isolation is often not a new experience for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These men, despite their depths of hard-won wisdom and delightful companionship, are well-accustomed to strangers keeping their distance in public places. The conditions we ironically bemoan on social media are barely distinguishable from how they have spent most of the days of their lives. They are old pros at quarantine, and they are teaching me.

Right now, we all find ourselves isolated and thirsty for connection. It is vital at a moment like this, when we are physically separated—making it happen means getting creative. Finding and creating opportunities for community connection is one of the ways we work toward our vision of welcoming, inclusive communities. During this pandemic, Kudoz, Real Talk, and Meraki have teamed up to form CoMakeDo, which brings neurodiverse people together virtually for a range of fun and creative experiences.

When we reflect on what matters most, its the relationships in our lives: the connections we have to our family, our friends, and our communities. In many ways, those bonds have been strengthened by this experience. Our Director of Innovation, Gord Tulloch, has observed numerous examples of generosity and kindness from people and organizations.

All of a sudden, neighbours are putting up their hands in social media posts, offering to do grocery shops for people who can’t. Beer companies like Parallel 49 are bottling hand sanitizers and Downtown Kia are delivering it to non-profits working the front lines. Companies like Novo Textiles have retooled to make N95 and surgical masks instead of pillows, cushions and pet beds. People are filling balconies and lining streets every day to honour our health care workers, sing songs together, and to offer gestures of unity and hope.

It’s magical.

Can we make it a little more ordinary?

Take a look around and you’ll see numerous examples of people doing things differently, coming together to support one another in extraordinary ways. The idea that “we’re all in this together” has transformed the way we go about our daily lives.

We awoke one day to find ourselves in intimate solidarity with citizens around the world, united by our shared vulnerabilities—health, death, employment, mortgages, loneliness, fear, food. Even toilet paper. 

What can we learn from this moment while we’re in it?

We will need voices, lots of voices, to insist upon a post-pandemic conversation about what sort of society we want to live in moving forward….We are in a rare moment of widespread social inflection. Beneath the suffering, the heroism, and the generosity, a question is labouring to surface: can we do better as a society? Not just for when the next pandemic rolls around, or in responding to the climate emergency, but in the everyday.

We will come out of isolation together. When we do, let’s find ways to take what we’ve learned from our experience to build more interconnected and caring communities.

You can read Mike Bonikowsky’s post “Can we go out today?” on LinkedIn.

You can read Gord Tulloch’s post “Social services weren’t made for pandemics – but here we are” on InWithForward’s blog.