ALL I CAN SAY IS that I’m glad I live on a city block where people shovel their sidewalks. When I look up and down the street, from one end of the block to the other, the snow is cleared. It’s a breeze to go for a walk.
A breeze that is, until I get to a few blocks away, where there is a homeowner who never shovels their sidewalk. Never. In all the years I’ve lived on the street, the snow in front of their house is never cleared. When I slog past their house through the new snow or slip over the icy mess after it’s thawed and frozen, I curse them under my breath.
It’s not that all the people on my city block shovel all of the time either. But there has been an unspoken agreement that if one neighbor has time, they will do their next-door-neighbor’s sidewalk too. On any given day when there’s snow to be shoveled, half the neighbors are shoveling all of the sidewalks.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter who shovelled, in the end the whole sidewalk is clear.
No one has ever discussed the idea that shovelling each other’s sidewalks helps the whole block have a clear path. Everyone simply does what they can, and the entire sidewalk is shovelled.
As we grind through another COVID winter, it feels like getting through it is a lot like shoveling the snow off the sidewalk.
I can get out and clear the sidewalk in front of my house, but if I’m the only one on the block who does it, it’s not that much good. Walking in the neighborhood would still be treacherous for many, and impossible for those with the mobility challenges.
In the same way, I can go and get my full vaccination, and hopefully soon my booster shot, but if I’m the only one vaccinated, the entire community is still at risk, and those with compromised immune systems will be at the greatest risk of severe or deadly outcomes if they contract COVID.
If I clear my neighbor’s sidewalk as well, there’s a bit more of an easy path for everyone. If a few people clear sidewalks of their neighbors, then before long almost all the paths will be clear.
Similarly, if we all keep wearing masks, we make it easier for everyone. COVID keeps getting stronger, so even if we’re vaccinated, there is a chance we could get infected. But masks reduce the risk of passing it on considerably. Masks help us help our neighbors, by reducing the risk we pass on the virus to others.
The other thing about living on a city block where the entire sidewalk is shoveled is that the peer pressure is a big incentive to shovel. I’ve been in neighborhoods where not one person shovels.
What a disaster for dog walkers, people with strollers, and those with mobility difficulties. Once a neighborhood descends into feeling like no one else shovels, it seems everyone just gives up and stops shoveling. Those neighborhoods can only wait for spring and snow melt before they can enjoy talking a walk again.
In terms of COVID, as a community, we’ve already made the decision for the most part: we wear masks, and we get our vaccinations. Hopefully people will persist and continue to wear masks and get their boosters when they are available too, not just to protect themselves, but to make it easier for their neighbors.
Even if we’re fed up with masks, hopefully peer pressure will help us keep wearing them. And just like snow shovelling some of us will do more than others, but it is what we do collectively that matters.
Shoveling snow is a group effort. We only succeed if we do our part and help our neighbors when we can. Together we’ll get through winter, and we’ll get through COVID too.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.