I was half asleep in a plane on the tarmac in Seattle when the pilot first alerted us that the world was changing fast. “Leave American soil right now and you may not be able to re-enter,” he warned, just minutes before we were due to take off for Europe.
My daughter and I looked wide-eyed at each other. We’d been planning a trip to Cape Town via Europe for months and had an incredible itinerary outlined for the next two weeks. In the space of five minutes we had to decide whether to head north homeward or continue our journey towards the southern hemisphere.
I knew we should “deplane”, as they say in airport-speak, but the imploring look on my kid’s face faltered my conviction. “Let’s just go,” I told her, as we prepared for takeoff. Somehow, we’d make a plan to get back.
I was right about the plan, but its execution was much sooner than what I’d expected. Just 48 hours after landing we were packing our bags and rerouting our tickets home as Canada sent a chilling warning to citizens abroad to return while they still could. Over six days we spent some 60 hours in the air. But we were lucky to be able to return, and luckier still to get back uninfected and symptom free.
Lately, as the restrictions ramp up and our home confinement continues, I’m trying hard to focus on our good fortune. How lucky I am to have all my children home with me, back in our cocoon of family safety. Lucky that we can sit down to meals together, take some long walks by the river and be fully in the present, rather than rushing around to the various activities that otherwise fill our respective lives.
For the first time ever we have time on our hands to focus just on our homes and our family relationships. With almost nowhere to go except the store, the resources we have at home become our whole world: the games in our cupboards, the books on our shelves and the puzzles that have been gathering dust, untouched for years. Now is the time to get down to those hobbies we’ve always procrastinated, the cleaning projects long delayed and the books we’ve been meaning to read.
In a time when all normalcy has been disrupted, in some ways COVID-19 has given us the gift of time, and with it the opportunity to reflect on what really counts. The virus has stripped away our exercise regimens, our social obligations and our urge to shop for new, unnecessary things. What’s left is screen time, remote work, virtual socializing and our own personal resources for keeping ourselves busy and entertained. Some of us will flourish with this freedom, others will wither under the pressure, particularly if and when the Internet crashes.
In some ways COVID-19 has delivered a prison sentence; in other ways, it promises a refreshing opportunity to focus without distraction. The prison shackles are hard to shake off. Like many, I’m finding it impossible to stay away from the news, and harder still to absorb and process the implications of its discouraging announcements. I go about my day with a knot of anxiety in my stomach, a constant web of worry that refuses to dissipate, no matter how hard I wrestle and reason with it.
But when I get outside, there’s encouragement everywhere. Here in B.C., the buds of spring are forming in my backyard and the bald eagles are back, circling in the thermals and filling the sky with their calls. The river is writhing with bird life and the natural world is awakening after a long winter, preparing for the flourish of summer. The message it sends me is that we will get through this, it’s just a matter of time. Normal life will resume, and when it does, this pandemic will become an old, distant memory we will mention with relief, glad to see the back of it. With any luck we won’t be so complacent about normalcy ever again.
It’s going to be a different Passover this year. As we spin through the haggadah singing songs with varying degrees of gusto, I know I for one will be focussing less on hekshers and more meaningfully on the plagues and the concept of freedom versus enslavement than ever before.