Focus on Fitness: Slow return to normalcy provides emotional booster shot

By Gloria Schwartz

Are you trying to stay upbeat and motivated during the pandemic? Do you need some inspiration? Better call Saul!

Saul Davidson is a senior who loves gardening and sharing his passion with others. Before everything shut down in March, Saul gave a talk about horticulture to his fellow members of the Creative Connections group at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. I’ve known Saul for several years as I teach chair fitness to Creative Connections. Saul has given away many beautiful plants. In the winter he gave me two little colourful potted beauties. I put them in my solarium and every morning throughout the winter and early spring, I’d say good morning to my “baby Sauls” as I watered them. I transplanted them to my backyard recently as the weather got warmer.

Saul started growing several varieties of tomato plants from seeds back in March. By May, his home was filled with seventy plants, so he kindly offered them up to his friends. Saul came to my home after the Victoria Day weekend. He didn’t just drop off plants. He brought his tools and top soil and planted them for me. Saul takes great pride in his gardening skills and knowledge and brings joy to many people. Between gardening and strength training exercises, he’s fit and spry and seems much younger than his age. Always with a smile and a positive attitude, he’s a shining example of the benefits of keeping your mind and body active, especially during these uncertain times. By late summer, I and many other people in Ottawa will be able to enjoy beefsteak tomatoes and cherry tomatoes thanks to Saul’s labour of love.

After policing the bridges to Gatineau for two months, the Quebec government finally began allowing non-essential traffic from Ottawa to Gatineau on Victoria Day. My family and I were able to drive to our cottage. We spent a couple of days breathing fresh air and enjoying the tranquility. We went canoeing and got a close-up sighting of a great blue heron. The call of the loons in the evening filled my heart with joy. Life seemed normal. It didn’t feel like there’s a pandemic because I was able to clear my mind of worries. Nature is medicine.

Now that the restrictions are loosening, you can enjoy more outdoor activities in the city such as golf and tennis or kicking a ball around in a park. You’re no longer at risk of getting a hefty fine for sitting on a park bench. You can take in the tulips and ducks at Dow’s Lake, the geese and goslings along the Ottawa River pathways or the many hiking trails and green spaces. Remember to maintain a safe distance of at least six feet from other people.

Many seniors’ residences are relaxing restrictions too. Unless the facility has an active outbreak of COVID-19, some form of visits with residents is now possible [at some residences]. My friend recently had her first window visit with her parents in Ottawa. They were able to see each other through a window as they spoke on cell phones. That’s far from ideal, but better than the lockdown that’s been ongoing for about two months. My father hasn’t been able to leave his apartment since a COVID-19 outbreak began in his seniors’ residence in the Montreal suburb of Côte Saint-Luc on March 14. Fifteen residents were infected and at least five have died. What a depressing way to live at an advanced age, with no organized activities and eating alone rather than in the communal dining room with friends. My father is resilient but not everyone is as strong.

I was finally able to visit with him on March 22. It was quite an emotional reunion. The night before, I dreamed I was visiting my father and hugging him and crying. I drove for two-and-a- half-hours with one of my sons for a scheduled 20-minute outdoor visit. We had to wear a mask and sit at least six feet away. No hugs allowed. As Daddy was escorted by the manager to the outdoor sitting area, I held up I sign that said “I love you!” and I jumped up and down. Daddy couldn’t hear me talking or read my lips because of my mask. Fortunately, I anticipated this problem and I brought a large notepad and marker for communicating. We had an early celebration of his 97th birthday, though I didn’t bring a cake because we couldn’t eat due to the masks and distancing requirements. My father doesn’t care for cake anyway. He was happy to see me and to get outside and feel the warm breeze and sunshine on his skin.

I asked the manager about the status of the building in terms of number of residents and staff with COVID-19. When she informed me that the building is now COVID-free, I shouted “Hallelujah!” As the lockdown went on and on, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see my father again. Then suddenly, like a miracle, he was allowed to come outside. Despite the isolation and other hardships of the lockdown, he amazingly seemed no worse for the wear.

During this pandemic, some people have yearned to get to the countryside, the golf green or tennis court; for others, a moment in the sunshine or seeing a loved one’s face has been their greatest wish. I hope everyone’s wishes come true. May we only see better days ahead. Stay healthy, or as my father said when I waved goodbye, “Zay gezunt!”

Photo 1: Saul Davidson plants tomatoes in Gloris Schwartz's backyard.

Photo 2: Gloria Schwartz at her cottage.

Photo 3: Gloria Schwartz enjoys an outdoor, socially-distant visit with her father at his residence.