The winners of our 2021 literary contest come together and read their poems and essays. We would like to thank all who took part in he video and as entrants.
The Colours of Our Flowers
By Samantha Grace J. Esquibel
Flowers are such beautiful creatures of this world. Each one unique, special, and irreplaceable,
but all belonging to the same wondrous land we reside on. Flowers are luscious, exquisite,
sophisticated, delicate, and fierce in their own distinguished way. But they are also vulnerable.
Pests, famine, drought, floods, extreme heat, all cause the destruction of the beauteous flowers.
Each succumbs to the darkness at their own pace, in their own way. Yes, some may capitulate
more slowly than the rest, but that proves how strong their will is to live, to breathe the fresh air,
to feel the soft summer breeze on their petals, to see and feel the light. In a way, you could say
that humans today are like that.
Us glamorous flowers are succumbing to more than just COVID. We’re succumbing to lies, full
on racism, cruel inequality, cold fear, and burning hatred. The ground shakes at our resentment,
the sky darkens at our inability to see the light and love, the clouds weep at our lack of remorse,
and the great trees shake their heads at our discrimination towards each other through colour of
skin, and much more. Some flowers give in to the darkness quickly, believing that there is
someone to blame for their difficulties. COVID brought out the worst in us. It still is.
When COVID struck, the frail petals of our flowers began to wither, nearly all did. It felt like the
sun refused to shine brightly and warmly. Like the clouds withheld their thirst-quenching rain.
Like the subtle wind forgot to blow. The darkness continued to spread. When the smallest ribbon
of golden light shone through, colours fought. When the light didn’t shine, we still fought. For
what? With or without light, colours still quarrelled, letting the darkness seep into their goodness.
The masses of flowers segregated themselves to join their desired colours. Reds, blues,
greens, violets, yellows, oranges, blacks, whites, grays, browns, why choose? The faster we
succumb to this dark influence, the faster our vibrant petals and our viridescent leaves wither.
We turned to put other colours at fault for this. Colours mistreated and oppressed spectacular
black flowers, for their colour. Colours berated and caused anguish to our red exotic East-Asian
flowers, for their appearance. With memories resurfacing after the discovery of the 215 remains
of Indigenous children, it’s safe to say that colours have done the same to our respected and
good-natured orange flowers. When will these flowers that are making themselves seem
superior or “right,” see that we all belong to the same land, the same Earth, and that we are all
suffering from one thing or another? With some suffering more than most. At that point various
flowers have withered.
In honour of the 215 Indigenous children remains found at the grounds of a residential school in
Kamloops later on during this pandemic, I respectfully acknowledge that their people have been
persecuted on their own ancestral land and still deserve more recognition for what they have
been through. The orange of their petals became more incandescent with the need to be
recognized, acknowledged, and understood. Many British Columbians stand with them. This is
one of Canada’s Historic Shames. Who knows how many more undiscovered remains of
nameless children lay beneath the ground of the countless residential schools across Canada?
Who knows how many more suffer from their traumatic experiences?
Fortunately, most of us learn from our mistakes. This is a new generation, a new decade, and
we are fighting for change! Soon enough, one type of flower will not have to suffer on their own,
instead they will be welcomed with open arms (or leaves if you want to keep to the flower
analogy). Multiculturalism is a wonderful thing! We can learn to accept; if we have not in the
past, then we should now. As I wrote earlier, we all belong to the same land. Do we not?
Therefore, we have a duty to each other. Though the world may not always be at its greatest,
we know that someone, anyone, will always have our back. Whether it be a friend, a family
member, a colleague, or a stranger, someone will always be there for us.
Since the pandemic, we learned how some people easily turned to violence and unnecessary
conflict. We need to work on accepting others, acknowledging our differences and being less
stereotypical. We have time to change, so why not start now?
Flowers don’t need to be separated by colour, the reason for that is that flowers are more
resplendent when intertwined. It’s like a sea of endless rainbows, always vibrant, always radiant,
always exuberant when together. The best part is that there’s room for everyone! There’s more
than enough love, and flowers of all colours are accepted with feathery breezes, the excited
buzz of bees and the gentle tickles of sun beams. The sun will shine its brightest. The sky will
be its pleasant shade of blue. The clouds will send their pristine rain. The trees will accept us.
Acceptance starts now.
Love starts now.
Change starts now.
“Forgiveness does not the change the past, but it does enlarge the future” – Paul Lewis
Pandemic Free Verse
By Mehak Lally
Trapped in a cage, like a bird.
A constant Tick Tick in my head
wondering when we’ll be free.
Yearning for new things to do.
Books called out to me they kept me company.
Any amazing adventures are all taken away.
Many horrible things were happening or were soon going to.
I was desperate to get out of the house like I was trapped.
Deprived of a night’s sleep, I was an owl.
Quarantine lasted a million years.
Stressed, sad, scared, and frightened of getting ill.
Masks walked to me, following me everywhere I went.
Sanitizing and washing my hands every second.
Fighting the battle, it was war.
I was as silent as a whisper.
Though, my mind was as loud as fireworks.
By Sanjana Karthik
I used to evade conversations
That I go
To a place
I can grow
Where my perceptions
Are free to be known
I used to notify my friends
By pretending I was somewhere else
Yet no where else at all
I dreaded that therapy
Made me appear absurd
Like there was something mistaken within me
But it was just distress
In my head
There was so much suffering
And even though
It seemed that I was okay
It was an inevitable
Of finding it hard to breathe
As the world kept pivoting
I felt dizzy
And every submerged emotion
Into each day’s commotions
And worries and distress
I needed support
And perhaps you do too
Therapy should be expressed
Despite feeling okay
Confide in someone today
Like a gym for your mind…
Helps tame the voices
Our trepidations burry inside
A Collage of Memories of Covid-19 March 2020-May 2021
By Parvaneh Farhangpour
I reach the side of a small lake. The lake stretches out silent, serene, and carefree. It is surrounded by strong tall trees standing like soldiers guarding against invasion. I stretch out and make small ripples in the water. The expanding circles of light and dark rings, sparkling in the sun, evoke the unstoppable spread of the coronavirus. As the circles widen, memories of the past year and a half flash back.
A breath of park
It is a couple days since I have stopped working, and like before, I am on my daily walk.
“Wow, just look at those yellow flowers! The petals are so bright and shiny, it is as if they have been laminated. I haven’t noticed them before, are they new?” I asked my husband.
“No, they have been blooming for a few days now,” he answered.
Yes, I had noticed them before, but only as though they were a piece of yellow cloth, with images of my boss and coworkers printed on it. Their words and my reaction endlessly looped in my head, making me feel defeated and irrelevant. Those annoying thoughts were stamped as images on every flower and tree wherever I walked in the park; I saw nature behind a curtain of emotional thoughts.
But now, it was completely different. The curtain had been lifted, I could see nature as it really was, no longer wrapped in heightened emotions, and tinted with the worries of what may happen tomorrow. Once again, I could smell the fresh air and feel it wafting over my face. I could sense the vitality of nature as the life-giving water brought life and colour to every leaf. The Park was no longer a place to hide from the daily hassles of life or to bury troubling thoughts; once again it was like a faithful friend that I could talk and whisper to. Now, when I leave the park, I carry a piece of it in my memory and its air in my lungs, while images of trees, flowers and the breeze keep dancing in my mind.
Mask, mask, mask
During the early days, the advice was, “Don’t wear masks! You will touch them which can make the mask dirty and cause more problems.” Then the advice changed as the scientists learned more about the disease and we were told, “Wear masks!” We searched the shops for masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer but they quickly became scarce. It was time for me to put my sewing skills to work and make a few masks. For the grandchildren I made cat-faces with whiskers and buttons for the eyes. I mailed them to my daughter as a surprise. She was impressed! I was very proud as she is not easily pleased. She called “Mom, you should make this a business!”
I replied, “But I don’t have a sewing machine!”
We had to get used to wearing masks. Some looked like burqas, some looked like bank-robbers’ scarves, some were funny, and some were the serious blue medical type. We struggled to put them on, the string would come loose from your ear and hang like on a washing line. It looked ridiculous. We were not even sure we wore them the right way round.
I used to tell myself, “It’s so easy nowadays to stay anonymous, nobody can see a half of your face!” Masks became part of everyday life, so much so that if someone was not wearing one you were surprised and would look at them with angry eyes – the irony was who could see your anger if you were wearing a pair of sunglasses too?
The lockdown and me
I developed my own neurosis as I began to feel guilty enjoying lockdown. Like a secret, I kept this to myself whilst others indignantly complained. They said the lockdown harmed them in many ways; financially, emotionally, the isolation, and without work. There was the impact on relationships and childcare. It felt almost surreal to me as something that was a blessing to me was to others a curse. I would inwardly smile and was thankful that God had released me from working, I was equally relieved that I didn’t have to pretend to be an ideal wife; no longer needing to arrange parties, spending hours preparing meals for the guests that I didn’t know, sitting next to them without a thought in my head, searching for topics to talk about, being a hypocrite, and for that I disliked myself.
I was content being left to myself, doing my own thing, learning from YouTube, watching my favourite TV programmes, and attending international video conferences. All this and more, at my own pace, and depending on my mood when I liked. This was heaven, I was on an openended holiday.
I would tell myself, “I am not lazy, I am enjoying an unplanned pandemic holiday!” But how could I share this when so many were suffering so acutely, a suffering that often, brought tears to my eyes?
It was the height of the pandemic. The fear of Covid-19 brought a threat to everyone. You saw the faces of men and women behind the windows of senior care centres looking disoriented, confused. They were looking out in the hope of seeing a familiar face, or even hear the voice of a family member. Many sensed they may not see their loved ones again. Their anxious eyes stared at the nurses and for endless hours at the walls till they were no more.
Children made brightly coloured posters in the shape of hearts and hung them on their balcony or in the windows of their rooms. Others prepared food packages for the foodbank or donated money to help those less fortunate.
If you opened your windows in the evening you would hear a bagpipe playing, an hour later neighbours on their balconies, beat pots and pans to honour front-line health-care workers. This was the same in towns and cities around the world.
The cloud of death knew nothing of international borders as it shrouded the Earth. So many waited anxiously for the news of the number of new cases and deaths in their locality. Whilst too many patients waited for death to knock at their door as they slowly suffocated in lonely fear and silence caught in the intrusive web of the virus.
Every day, for months, we watched the news for the latest statistics of new infections and health advice from the chief-health officer of our province. The message was clear, do not leave home except for exercise and grocery shopping, wear your mask, regularly wash your hands, and social distance of two metres. We were in a LOCKDOWN!
Instantly your home became your office, playground, school, gym, and tragically for too many, confinement led to abuse. Only God knows how many children cried and how many women screamed in silence behind closed doors. Sadly, during the lockdown the number of cases of domestic violence, divorce, and drug-overdose dramatically increased.
Interestingly, many saw their neighbours for the first time busying themselves on their balcony or yard. It felt strange, suddenly everyone was at home. It was like homes had been shaken like salt cellars and the occupants flung out into their yards and balconies.
The story was the same the world over whether rich or poor, east, west, south, or north, famous, or unknown. Every member of humanity was on Covid trial waiting for the verdict, infected or not infected – and tomorrow a new trial begins!
The phone started to ring, WhatsApp notifications drummed several times. News was bad. That kind and loving friend had caught Covid and was in the intensive care unit. Family, friends, and even neighbours were ready to join in prayers for this dear soul. Prayer vigils, 24-hour prayers, small and big meetings were organized, and we prayed. The friend could have been anyone of us – that is why so many were willing to join and pray.
“Thy name is my healing, O my God and remembrance of Thee is my remedy. Nearness to Thee is my hope and love for Thee is my companion. Thy mercy to me is my healing and my succour in both this world and the world to come. Thou verily art the all-bountiful, the all-knowing the all-wise.” -Baha’u’llah
This same story repeated many times for friends and families around the world.
Patients lay in their beds, connected to numerous pieces of equipment, every breath a struggle, their chests slowly rising and falling as if compressed with unbearable weights, alone, no friends or family at their bedside. They stay there, living on the edge, gasping for air, helplessly waiting in agony for a miracle that in too many cases won’t happen. Each life hangs by a thread. Will the thread break, will it grow strong? Breathing becomes a titanic task, stretching the thread, reminding us that only one breath separates life from death and here from there.
At your service!
“Do you want me to buy your groceries?” my neighbour asked me during the first wave of the pandemic. It was so kind of her! There was nothing I needed so I asked her if there was anybody, she knew whom I could help.
In those early days we saw so many acts of kindness and generosity, birthday drives around the block for the elderly, outdoor ceremonies for school graduates, volunteers who cooked for the health workers, and so many other examples.
There were messages and video conferences with friends and family members who had not spoken with each other for too long. How heart-warming to speak with relatives and acquaintances from around the world who had not seen each other for years. Finding childhood classmates from my hometown, and a university friend staying in UK.
Most remarkably, finding a friend who had been a sweetheart a long time ago. I learned that he was now confined to a wheelchair, with eyes too weak to read, a mind too tired to think, very frail and lonely. A flood of memories, contrasting thoughts, and mixed emotions overwhelmed me as we had almost married – how vastly different my life would have been now? “Thanks God”, I thought, but “Am I too selfish to feel this way?”
Many people did amazing things for others during those trying times. It felt good to think of someone else, it had a soothing and cleansing effect. It was so gratifying to be able to make someone a little happy and make them smile even for a few seconds, with a short text message, an email, or a phone call. The pandemic reminded us that we are all deeply connected, and helping each other fulfills abasic human need. It was a strange dichotomy; like never before our hearts felt close to each other while physically, we remained far apart (at least two metres!!).