My mother and her parents survived the Second World War in Germany. The family was completely bombed out three times – their worldly possessions and their home destroyed. Finding suitable housing was a challenge. Day to day food and supplies were scarce. After the war, the air raids stopped but rationing became the new normal. People were thankful for the basics when available, and had long since learned to do without luxuries like coffee, sugar or toilet paper.
Life was better in Canada, but the uncertainties and deprivations of war left their mark. My brother and I were raised in a “waste not, want not” household. We knew we had to eat everything on our plate. Hand soap was used until it was a sliver too small to hold onto and toilet paper – well, that was a precious commodity.
After my father died, I took on the task of weekly grocery shopping. Ma kept a running list. Item number one was always toilet paper. With just the two of us, we didn’t use that much, so I only bought it when the supply dwindled.
One day as I was washing my car, the front door slammed. My mother stepped onto the porch and exclaimed, “Well! It finally happened!”
“What did, Ma?” I said.
“We’re out of toilet paper,” she said, with an I told you so look on her face and her arms crossed indignantly.
“We have lots,” I said. But I had to accompany her to the bathroom and pull out the eight-pack I had just purchased before she would believe me. Flustered as she was, we did laugh about it. Still, it was no joke. This was evidence of a deep emotional scar. She desperately feared living without life’s simplest comforts.
Having grown up in a land of plenty, I could hardly relate. Until recently. As the first whiff of the novel coronavirus wafted in on the newsfeed, Canadians began hoarding – of all things – toilet paper. Store shelves that once burst with a plethora of brands and bargains were eerily bare. It only got worse after that. Tales of hand sanitizer priced like expensive perfume and a shortage of cleaning supplies caused panicked consumers to raid those aisles. Then came a frenzied rush to buy protein sources, like eggs and chicken. Things have settled down some, but good luck finding a bag of flour at the moment. Who could have imagined standing in line to get into the grocery store, and then, once inside, a Twilight Zone of endless empty shelves.
People hoard out of compulsion, fear or the need for control. Often it’s an understandable reaction prompted by some trauma – like a pandemic. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Canada has fallen short of the grim projections so far. For that we can all be thankful. The economic toll and the long-term impact on our mental health remain to be seen. What will our national psyche look like post pandemic? Will we all need bigger closets to stockpile our perceived necessities? Will we cower from fear of shortages and/or poverty? Or will we learn valuable (if somewhat painful) lessons to help us through the future?
Christians know their times are in God’s hands. This is the same God who told his beloved Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Do we really believe that? The best things in life must be shared – like friendship, smiles or kindness. You can’t hoard faith, hope and love. It all boils down to trusting a heavenly Father when he says, “My dear child – enough is enough.”
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