It’s the last week of 2020. At this time last year, my husband Ben and I were busily planning our trip back to our home in New Zealand from our home in Seattle, where we had returned to spend the holidays with our family. Our decision to move to New Zealand in the Fall of 2019 stemmed from exciting opportunities we had been presented with. Mine in leading the newly formed Design Practice at ASB Bank, and Ben’s in continuing his consulting business with Alchemy Data Science within a new market, in an emerging and innovative economy. On New Years Day 2020, we flew back to Auckland to continue our tour abroad. We had arranged for our beloved dogs Lucy and Leroy to finally join us in early February after quarantining from their own journey down under.
When we arrived in Auckland the weather was warm, the spirits of the folks in the neighborhood we lived in were lively. It was the middle of summer and vacations, holidays were in full swing. We settled in for what we imagined would be exciting times ahead full of challenge and fulfillment. My job was immediately all consuming, there was much to do to gain momentum in forming the Design Practice. The team we had assembled were beginning to come together, and I was getting to know the wonderful people who would eventually become both friends and colleagues. Things were starting to feel good, to “gel” as we established our routine, both at work and at home. Our dogs arrived safely, making our home away from home actually feel like a home.
I was looking forward to my daughter Allie visiting in March, and a family reunion in Los Angeles planned for July, then another trip for our full family to visit New Zealand over the Christmas holiday. Planned quarterly visits with family was what made being so far away bearable, and I convinced myself it would be enough. Perhaps it would have been. We’ll never know as none of the plans we made came to fruition.
Back home in the northern hemisphere, as winter set in, Covid-19 began to take hold hitting Seattle most aggressively in those early weeks. This was incredibly worrying given the proximity to our family. Yet in New Zealand there seemed to be little concern of the virus. It hadn’t hit, and we were somewhat blissfully optimistic that it would not. But as things continued to get worse, with infections and death tolls rising, panic and anxiety set in for me watching from afar. By March the virus had hit New Zealand and it seemed the whole world was in lockdown. Nobody could get into the country, unless you were a citizen, and conversely nobody could get out. Flights were cancelled, services shut down. Jacinda Arden, who will be forever praised for her handling of the virus, put strict rules in place, and within two months had the virus completely under control.
Meanwhile, the virus raged throughout the rest of the world, and we worried from afar about all of our family and friends. We hoped things would subside by summer, but there seemed to be no end in sight. To add even more fuel to the virus fire, the racial tensions sparked by the George Floyd killing brought violence, protests, and riots to many parts of our hometown and beyond. Tensions rising from the upcoming election fueled frustrations. No clear end to the virus, or even a plan to get it under control, painted a picture we couldn’t ignore. We had to return home. We simply could not be this far away from our family, with so much going on in the US. By June we had made the decision to end our New Zealand tour.
As we planned our return to the US, we had decided to not return to Seattle, and instead settled outside of the Bay area in Sonoma. We needed to be close to family, a quick flight was our criteria, but given the virus, wanted to be in a more remote location than our densely populated neighborhood in Seattle. Plus, after working for so long for so many years, I wanted to take some time off in a space that allowed a connection to nature, a little bit of land, and a place to breathe and regroup. We bought a house sight unseen, while still in New Zealand, and did our best to prep it for our arrival from afar. My brilliant husband negotiated the furniture within the sale, so all we had to do was unpack our clothes, get some groceries, and settle in. After landing in Los Angeles on August 6th, dogs intact, we headed north. The kids would arrive a week later, for a much-needed mini family reunion.
By August the election was in full swing and tensions were high. The political rhetoric, fake news, and ever-increasing distance and contention between Democratic and Republican viewpoints were heading to even more extremes. Death and infection rates from Covid were increasing by the day, still with no clear national plan to get things under control in sight. We were shocked at what had changed in our short time away. People we encountered on the street, some behind masks, some not, carried the stresses of the situation in their body language. The headlines, day after day, painted a grim picture of the path forward. While we were very grateful to be back in the US, it was clear (it’s still clear) there is much work to be done to heal and move forward in a positive direction.
Ben immediately went to work volunteering for the Democratic party, applying his expertise to key downstream campaigns. I went to work exploring our new community as I could, and getting our new home in shape, preparing for family to visit. All the while, keeping our bubble as tight and small as possible. Our local lives were happy and healthy, and we were starting to feel settled, which also felt so strange amongst the total chaos and devastation the virus had inflicted on so many communities, families and individuals.
Yet we were not without impact from Covid in our family. My son Travis, a chef who lives in Austin, lost his position as Executive Chef for a prestigious French restaurant almost immediately in March. My daughter Allie, who worked at Soul Cycle, was put on furlough. My son Aidan, a consultant working in marketing, lost his job on the Microsoft retail account at the end of Summer. Yet even with these challenges, we are still very fortunate. We are all taking time to regroup and reexamine life as we know it. The down time, while challenging, has allowed reflection and growth in ways we could not anticipate.
There have been other losses and challenges. Most devastating was the loss of our beloved dog Lucy who died unexpectedly from cancer, shortly after our arrival. That in an of itself deserves its own reflection which perhaps someday I’ll find the strength to write. We still grieve for her, she was the most special and remarkable dog. The tears flow frequently.
And as I sit here, writing these thoughts, I do so with a fractured fibula, from a bad fall earlier this week! In my 52 years on this planet, I have never broken a bone. Leave it to 2020 to also provide my maiden voyage into life with crutches. I shall never take my mobility for granted again.
Yet with all of the challenges and losses of 2020, I am still optimistic, still hopeful. We have the ability to choose to be kinder, more empathetic humans, to think of others more than ourselves. We have the ability to learn, to keep evolving, and to listen more. To quote the Dali Lama, “The world doesn’t need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” I hope 2020, of all things, provides us each the perspective and impetus to embrace that notion.