Last month Leslie and I were in Vernazza, Italy, one of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre, and suddenly I felt almost whole for the first time in 18 months. I remember the moment it happened. Our party had just settled at our table overlooking a Mediterranean sunset when I heard the future, and it made me smile.

As we all witnessed in the spring of 2020, Italy had been slammed by the pandemic and suffered from some of the highest case counts in the world during the early months. Today, their case counts are well below most of the world, around 100 per million, which is even lower than Canada. But those early days of panic gave them a heightened sense of vigilance, and since then, they have led the EU in controlling the pandemic within their borders. They have consistently had the strictest measures in Europe. Earlier this fall, they were one of the first countries to roll out a national COVID-passport, which they call a Green Pass, and its logo is ubiquitous throughout the country.

As our waiter, Andreas, approached our table wearing a ridiculous lobster hat, he asked us to produce our Green Pass. In an unintelligible mixture of Italian, French, and English, we all started to explain that we were from Canada. And as we began to produce passports and COVID certificates, he said, “OK, all good. I no need.” A bit confused, we said, “Why not? Don’t you need proof that we’re vaccinated?” he replied, “You just said that you are Canadian, yes? You could not be here in Italy unless you were vaccinated. No? E coli facile (it’s that simple)”.

And it kind of is just that simple. In Nova Scotia, a highly-effective vaccine roll-out has achieved world-leading benchmarks. We’ve handled our province’s COVID journey by putting community, care, compassion, and common sense first—a fact of which we should all be proud. And it’s that common sense element, so evident in our waiter’s response when we attempted to produce our proof of vaccination, that we need to lean into moving forward. We are where we are now. We’re as safe as we’re going to be. Sure, we should continue making smart decisions, but we must get back out there and back up to steam.

That means, in some cases, getting out of our comfort zones. Deciding to do things each day, we might not feel “quite” ready to do yet. During this step-by-step process, we’ll find life starting to feel whole again—as each day begins to resemble the days of the past more closely. And we find there are ever fewer parts of our past that we can’t look forward to in our future.

As of this week, over 80% of all Nova Scotians have received at least one dose, and each week thousands more are administered. Will we ever be done? Will it ever be the same? Back to normal? It’s up to us now. The government and health system have kept us safe. It’s time for us to get out and become whole again.

Whether a trip to Europe is in your plans for the near future or not, I can say from first-hand experience that my recent travels have given me a fresh outlook. Like most of us, the pandemic was starting to wear me down. A sort of psychological long-COVID was setting in, and I was concerned for the future. Well, I’ve now seen the future, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m optimistic for my family, for my company, and for myself.

My plan is to boost that optimism with enthusiasm and action. My advice is to make plans that might feel a little scary. After all, what might scare us today, we accept tomorrow and demand the day after that. E coli facile. Ciao!