Even as we celebrate the news that we will be dropping to alert level two in a few days, leading to more freedom and a return to a normal world, it struck me this morning that ‘normal’ is a long way off. In fact, it may never return to that of the past.
The sound of construction dominates the city centre, deafening as I walk past the site of a new apartment block. But already there are For Lease signs where there used to be a restaurant and a shop. It would be foolish not to expect more to follow.
There are few planes flying in and out of the city, even fewer flying in and out of the country. Yesterday we noted the single plane that flew over us as we walked near the airport; usually there would be so many we wouldn’t even notice. Driving past the deserted runway was eerie, despite that to our other side surfers jostled for position on breaking waves.
Reading essays from writers all over the world I realise that our situation here in New Zealand is different from most countries. Yes, we have restrictions; no, life is not normal. But we feel in control; the virus isn’t running rampant amongst us and we have no community transmission.
As we wait to see if we can soon join friends for a meal or a coffee, I think about our family and friends on the other side of the world and, with a jolt as though an electric current has passed through me, it strikes me that it will be a long time before I can do so with any of them. Our borders are likely to remain closed for at least another year – a friend wonders if she will see her few-months’-old grandson before he is two – and air travel will not return to what it was.
To move halfway around the world is to accept that your relationship with those you leave behind will change, that your time spent in the same room, let alone the same hemisphere, will be limited. But there is always the option of getting on a plane, albeit for a long trip. Now that has gone, and we have no idea when it will return, nor in what format.
It’s a sobering prospect that, even though I will soon be able to wander the streets of my home city and enjoy its many features, the city will change and many familiar sights will disappear. It’s overpowering to think about how long it might be before I can see my first home city again. What will happen to it and the people in it that I love in the meantime? It’s not something I can think about too much.