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I have four friends.
OK, more than four, some of which are closer, and much more present in my life.
But these four are special to me. By all societal standards, they are perfect - smart, honourable, funny, law-abiding and immeasurably sane. And if that weren't enough, all four of them are gorgeous. If my self-esteem were shoddy, I'd think twice about hanging out with them because they could make me look pretty bad.
I've known them for years. Three are ex co-workers I stayed in touch with, and one a fellow baseball mom I grew close to over four years of watching our kids play ball. Seems like a lifetime ago.
They had always accepted my outlandish views of the world to varying degrees, but didn't particularly care for them. It certainly wasn't why we got along then.
We'd stayed in irregular contact, touching base every so often. But that changed over the course of the last few months as they began reaching out to me, more frequently, behind the scenes. And although they never commented on my posts, they certainly had questions. Nagging doubts. Concerns, as they were trying to make sense of what was unfolding. Things weren't adding up.
Sphinx and Pixie were biding their time, waiting for this whole vaccine thing to play out before jumping head first into something that was so new. Cappy was even more reluctant, naturally inclined to avoiding pharm medicine whenever possible.
Gem was a different story. Fully on board with the original covid planning committee, she got the shots and wasn't shy to confront me on social media when I shared my refusal to get mine, once lashing out so angrily I was dumbfounded. But I let it settle and wash over me. It's the price you sometimes pay for sharing unpopular views, but I wasn't going to lose the friendship over it. I also sensed there was something else going on, and whatever it was, she deleted the tirade the next day. Maybe hoping I hadn't seen it, and not knowing for sure - till now - that I did. It never came up.
So it was all the more surprising when I started to see Gem, out of all people, turn around. Openly acknowledging that it was enough with the mandates, that things had gone too far, and that she would not get the booster.
Pixie and Sphinx were far more reserved. At least publicly, and for a long time. Never having identified with the conspiracy crowd, they suffered in silence as they watched friends and family increasingly getting the shot, and felt pressure to do the same, coming dangerously close to giving in at times, but in the end standing their ground.
Cappy was always very quiet. She wouldn't shy away from saying where she stood if asked, but she was definitely not using a bullhorn to make any loud statements. And having just given birth, she had a whole set of additional burdens to face, and more than any of us, she worried about her child's future. She was even considering moving back to her corrupt home country in Eastern Europe, because they were less restrictive than Canada. Imagine.
So I spent months speaking with them privately, on and off, behind the scenes, away from the public stage of social media. Never telling them what to think. Trying to answer what I could, which wasn't much. Leaving them the time and space to come to their own conclusions.
And research they did. Before I knew it, they all turned into little private detectives. Many times they were the first to inform me of a new development, an interesting fact they stumbled upon, an article I would have never known about. When part of your social media family is the echo chamber, you hear many things over and over. These girls were finding stuff nobody else was.
But mostly, they were finding their voices. The more they read, the more they discovered, the more determined they became. Slowly, they started speaking up and pushing back. Kindly, respectfully, but insistently. Challenging family and friends. Sphinx left her mask at home, getting away with it in a couple of stores, and dealing with being confronted by the security clerk in another. Not to mention joining in on the truckers' rally, an afternoon we spent together on the overpass cheering on the loudly honking semis passing underneath with Canadian flags. Pixie found like-minded people to connect with in her new neighbourhood and is now editing a local paper reflecting these views while battling her employer who is making her take two PCR tests a week. Cappy, the quiet one, has come out with public social media posts that leave no room for doubt as to where she stands. And Gem, well, Gem never took any prisoners to begin with.
In many ways, their voices matter more than those who were skeptical from the beginning. Because they had always been conventional and taken the world at face value. Because of their ability to question and challenge their own views, and their willingness to arrive at new conclusions. Because of their courage to face a world that is hostile to unpopular views, finding themselves in completely foreign territory.
It's easy for anyone to dismiss the conspiracy-minded nutcase with the tinfoil hat. Not so much the friend you always respected and whose judgment you trusted. The impact of that person suddenly changing her tune can't be understated.
So there lies my hope. That there are more such courageous spirits out there. It's not enough to quietly agree in the background anymore. It's time to push back. Speak up. Be loud. Take a stand. Not just on principle itself, or that it's the authentic and honest thing to do, but because it may give someone else with quiet doubts of their own the courage to do the same, and maybe inspire someone else in return.
It's becoming more difficult to collectively ignore us. We're waking up and gaining ground, and before you know it, we will be an army with enough power to break down the door of the cage we've been living in for the past two years.
Sandra is a blogger, life coach and activist.