Heading out to Alberta a few weeks ago, I worried about being downwind from smoke from their wildfires. Several years ago I’d been in Yellowknife during their fire season–the stage where aroma-of-campfire had morphed into stink-of-cold-ashtray–and I didn’t need to do that again. As it turned out, Alberta was not what I should have worried about.
Ottawa started this week with an Air Quality Health Index of 10+, which translates to Very High Risk.
As a side note, if called upon to name a scale where “higher” means “worse”, I would not give it a misleadingly cheery name. Perhaps we could rename this scale to something more intuitively obvious: something like Air Awfulness Index.
A CBC Radio report at 6AM on Monday said we had a reading of 126 (on that self-same scale of 1 to 10, go figure), which gave us air as bad as in Beijing.
Later that day, New York City did us one better: Choking on what was, effectively, the same smoke from fires in Northern Quebec, they reported the worst air quality of all major cities.
That was one headline, and the tone of a fair amount of commentary.
As a side note, I propose a trade. We’ll take back our smoke, if you take back your guns smuggled into Canada.
And you know, I get it. One of life’s more-distressing realizations is that I am downwind of something unpleasant over which I have no control: When I realize that someone else’s bad action or inaction is causing me trouble. Blaming that someone else is an understandable human reaction.
And yet, this is life, isn’t it? Like everyone, I am downwind of the grand events of history. I live in a country whose geography, weather, and defensibility are driven by the current placement of the planet’s tectonic plates. I am marked by migration events that happened long before there even were countries.
I am downwind of the comparatively small actions of my own forebears. Of multiple decisions that re-positioned the various members of my line from the Old World to the New and from there to the frontier. Of a single decision not to enlist to fight in WWI, but to seek an exemption to farm. Heck, I am downstream of all of their genes, which nobody chose and yet which strongly affect my capabilities and my health every day.
I am downwind of my own past actions related to education and work. If my younger self had a choice at the time, I am not so fortunate: I must now play the hand I dealt myself.
Finally, I am downwind of the seemingly inconsequential events in other people’s lives that send them out into their day–and mine!–primed to be helpful and cheery, or not.
As bad as all that is, it’s more distressing to realize that I am upwind of someone having trouble, and that I contributed to it by bad action or inaction. And this, too, is life.
I am buffeted by, and contribute to, a continuous flow of everything from grand winds to gentle breezes. When I’m tempted to feel aggrieved about the literal or metaphorical stink-of-cold-ashtray that is delivered to me by those air currents, maybe I’d do better to focus my energy on what I’m passing on.