(Thomas Froese Photo)

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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, January 15, 2022)

So here we are in a shiny new year – Happy New Year, by the way – and what comes to mind but the darn cemetery. It’s a fine cemetery, really, historic and beautifully-terraced and a refreshing morning walk.

Most mornings I’m there with the dog. There we go through the park, past the rink where children laugh, then past the woods where the dog sniffs dead leaves and then does her, you-know. Then it’s up the wooden stairs to said cemetery where said dog – you’ll recall her name is Grace – loves to run through the tombstones. If there’s snow, even better.

You’ll laugh, but my bride and I – we’re not that old – have already purchased our burial plot. I like to plan, you know? I mean, you might cross some road and get hit by a milk truck. Just saying. Today’s danger is due to, well, lots of things.

Consider dangerous places you should never visit, like, say, Afghanistan, or Yemen (okay, we lived there for a few years), or Syria. In 2021, these three are, in the Global Peace Index, the world’s least peaceful nations. Iceland (Iceland?!) apparently is now the world’s most peaceful country, with low crime, strong social supports, and the classes getting along swimmingly well.

Canada is 10th in this particular ranking. And the U.S.? It’s now the 122nd most peaceful country. Hmm.

But let’s get real. Is anyone safe anywhere? True, a few tiny specs, ocean islands, report no COVID-19, or herd immunity. Even so, the world’s biggest danger remains the human heart. Yes, heart disease, by far, is the biggest people killer. Then stroke. About one-in-four deaths worldwide are from these, understandable since about half the world’s people now reach 70 years.

It’s believed, though, that COVID-19, now leads all deaths in several European countries, like France and the U.K., and several Latin American countries, like Brazil. In fact, the Americas and Europe, with one-quarter of the world’s people, have about 80 per cent of the world’s 5.5 million pandemic deaths.

Speaking of dying, but living longer, I still think of myself as 20-something. Apparently this is common as we ripen into old age. I’m actually three decades past 20-something, old enough to torment my three teenagers with ‘70s music. In either case, by the time you read this, with any good travel fortune, I’ll be in sub-Saharan Africa.

If I’m not it’s because I’ve either A) tested positive and never boarded the plane, or, B) boarded the plane only to have it fall from the sky or, C) had something else go wrong, leaving me curled up on some airport floor, wondering how the dog is doing. I’ll keep you posted later on my whereabouts, and well-being, and task-at-hand in my former Ugandan university home.

But in terms of danger, at least world pandemic danger, the interesting news is also that the pandemic is not the leading cause of death in much of Southeast Asia, or the Western Pacific, where, prior to vaccines, it was masking, strong contact tracing and early isolation of infected peoples (not mass lockdowns) that was a key plan of attack. Nor is COVID-19 leading deaths across Africa, including my specific Ugandan destination. Granted, developing nations under-report. Also, a younger African populace, exposed to various diseases, may be more resilient.

Still, yeah-yeah, I’ll get the raised eyebrow, the big question, like in the old days whenever I’d leave Canada. I’d visit the mall to pick up some shorts, and, sometimes, mention Uganda. “Really?” Then the predictable, “Is it safe?”

“Safe?” I’d respond. “Have you lost your mind?” Okay, I’d never say that. Sometimes I’d simply say, “No, it’s not safe. But, then again, life isn’t meant to be safe.”

This is what makes life good. It’s what helps us appreciate the days that we’re given. I mean, really. Life? Safe? For all its horrible grief, at the least the pandemic has burst that bubble.