By: Stephen Cornish

Every crisis is unique. From extreme weather events to civil war to disease outbreaks, each poses its own, often existential, threats.

One thing crises have in common, though, is that they force us to determine what is most important in life. They force us to adapt in real time, to assess how we are living and to determine how things might need to change.

It’s often difficult to remember that in times of chaos, we are naturally more resilient and socially cohesive than we might expect. I was head of Doctors Without Borders/MSF Canada during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. There was no cure and fear was spreading around the world. I learned that life carries on — people find ways to feed their families, care for neighbours and the less fortunate, and join together in the face of imminent danger. Most amazingly, I witnessed how West Africans maintained these cohesive self-help connections after the crisis had passed, for the betterment of all.

As the spread of COVID-19 brings loss, fear and uncertainty, we take comfort and solace in the most basic elements of life: food, nature and human connection.

Just a few weeks ago, we were experiencing a society based largely on individualistic actions and systems. The primary goal for many was to care for oneself and one’s family, with less concern for others.

Today, from those delivering essential services for the common good — keeping everything from grocery stores to public transit running — to our life-saving health-care workers, we see daily acts of courage and love for something greater than oneself. We see acts of altruistic communal service that remind us what life can be like in a world where we take care of one another first.

Even during the toughest times, we see that connecting with nature is an essential part of the human experience.

People are also finding creative ways to reconnect with nature. It’s amazing what a short walk outside can do for body and soul — to lift the weight of daily angst-filled newscasts. And it’s heartening to see so many planting seeds of new life in hope-filled balcony flower pots and kitchen herb gardens. Even during the toughest times, we see that connecting with nature is an essential part of the human experience.

As is re-prioritizing human connection. Video dance parties, “quarantinis” with long-lost friends and FaceTime chats with family are all the rage. We do it under the guise of making sure everyone is safe, but maybe there’s something about this deliberate, purposeful way of connecting that we can bring into a post-COVID world.

As we wade through this crisis and eventually emerge on the other side, I hope we find ways to reimagine our world — a world where the interdependence of all living things is central and celebrated. A world where we continue to revere not only the supermarket worker but the farmer and migrant worker. A world where we pay a fair price, and workers are paid a fair wage.

Imagine a world where we are more connected to everything that keeps us alive, from food and shelter to the natural systems that give us air, water and soil.

Imagine a world where we are more connected to everything that keeps us alive, from food and shelter to the natural systems that give us air, water and soil. Building on our balcony gardens, we can take community “rewilding” to the next level and begin to see nature as the solution, not the problem.

The worst of COVID-19 may still be to come. But it’s not too early to see how this pandemic can help us determine what’s most important. If we intend to “recover better,” it will be essential to identify what we want to hold on to, then plant and tend to it in the new world we create together.

As we have seen with yellow fever, Ebola and now COVID-19, if we continue to dismantle and encroach on the last remaining areas of wilderness, we may not only accelerate the mass extinction crisis, but we may also help engender further zoonotic diseases that put the entire planetary balance in disarray.

In this time of emergency, we must rise up, come together and support those most affected. As we recover from this pandemic, we must seize opportunities to become more localized, densified and green. It will help us persevere and better respond in future times of crisis.

Our global interdependence and humanity must overcome. It is, after all, our greatest strength.

This op-ed was originally published in the Vancouver Sun