This winter the fragility of life came home sharply to me. As I took long walks along the shoreline of my beautiful lakeside town, a narrow strip extended by solid frozen waves of opaque and dirty ice, I realized that I would die in minutes if I fell into those icy waters out on the lake that only a few months ago had been warm and inviting.

When I watched the TV and saw a huge swath of western Toronto shrouded in darkness due to a power blackout, an area that would reduce its inhabitants to pioneer era living within days if the power was not restored. And how many of us pampered middle•class types could survive as pioneers today?

Then I saw the innocent bird that got sucked into an aircraft, turning it into a vehicle of doom, its passengers saved only by the skill of an intrepid pilot. And the other brave souls who weren’t as lucky: the ones who braved snowmobiling in treacherous weather and succumbed to an avalanche of death that plunged an entire community into deep mourning.

We saw the economies of hope, fuelled by growth, greed and fear, stall when optimism died last fall. The shock of their tailspin into bankruptcy and loss, unprecedented in recent history, is still being absorbed.

As I drive our Highway of Heroes, I watch for the treacherous black ice in stretches that can turn fast•moving traffic into a snarl of death, converting the road into a Highway of Innocent Victims.

And as the snow falls, more heavily now than in past years, as I dress warmly to go outside to shovel the driveway and clean out the cars, I do my warm•up exercises and promise myself not to work too hard because there is only an instant that separates the hard shovelling man panting over his exertions and the one clutching his chest, collapsed in the snow.

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