March 30, 2020
We are in the throes of the Corona (COVID-19) virus. When I say “we,” I don’t mean myself or my family but the world, and particularly, for me, the U.S. Of course, it affects us all, whether or not we have the virus ourselves. Certainly it could (and most likely will) get worse before it gets better. This morning, as I went for a walk around the neighborhood, I had the eerie feeling that I was living an episode of the Twilight Zone.
I imagine most writers are addressing this issue in their work or journals. Or, perhaps, like me, they’ve been too stunned to tackle the topic. Today I thought I’d shake off the “wait and see” attitude that prevents me from putting anything in writing at this point.
My husband and I had planned a number of trips this year. I should say “I” had planned an unprecedented amount of travel. Having just retired at the beginning of 2019 from teaching, I told myself that we should travel to parts of the world we’d never seen and do so before our health might prevent us. So I scheduled trips to Japan, Peru (Machu Picchu), and the south of France, in addition to our usual annual trip to New Zealand. By nature a bit of a risk taker and a lot of a cheapskate, I bought airfare, hotels, etc. mostly through Expedia (which packages various airlines) and mostly noncancellable and nonrefundable.
We were scheduled to leave for Los Angeles on February 18, spend a couple of nights with our son Clay there, then leave for New Zealand on February 20. By February 18, the virus was already causing serious problems in China and starting to spread into Singapore and Korea. Because we had scheduled layovers in Singapore on our way from Auckland to Japan (on March 22) and Korea on our way home (April 1), we knew we would mostly likely cancel our trip to Japan by the time we arrived in Auckland.
However, we thought travel to Auckland would be safe—and, so far as we can tell—it was. Shortly after arriving in New Zealand, we attempted to cancel our flights to and from Japan without success. A few days after we returned to the U.S. (March 22), Auckland went into “shut down” mode.
During our month in Auckland, the virus began to spread into and throughout the U.S. Life in Auckland was almost, though not quite, business as normal. I conducted a Ph.D. seminar with students in the room, though several others asked if they could receive a taping of the seminar instead of attending in person. People bunched together in bars, on beaches, in restaurants, and streams of students bumped against one another when a fire alarm sent us outside.
When I spoke with family in the U.S.—my sister, my son, my daughter, my parents—the reports of people wearing gloves and self-isolating even though they had no symptoms and no diagnosis—seemed like overkill. Appointments were being cancelled, others debated (was it safe for my mom to have her hair cut one last time?) At first I couldn’t quite take it all seriously, could hardly believe my ears.
By the time we left Auckland on March 22, we knew the virus was indeed serious. Where would it end? What would we find when we arrived in the U.S.? Should we wear masks on the plane even though reports indicate the masks aren’t helpful? Would we be able to buy toilet tissue or hand sanitizer?
We’re here now. We feel safe much of the time. But we are saddened to hear how many people in the world, in the nation, in our state, even in our city, have contracted the virus. When will it end?
My morning walk, despite the absence of people stirring, wasn’t without splendor. Flowers and trees are budding and bursting into full bloom. Spring surges into our world, oblivious to this threat to our health. Let’s enjoy the beauty around us and, yes, let our hearts sing.