Exactly one year ago today, I was eating deep-fried gator bites and seared sea scallops while in balmy Florida on a press tour, having just spent a few weeks vacationing in Palm Springs, Calif., idling on the edge of a pretty pool as an escape from the February drear of the B.C. rainforest.
Within a month of returning from the glories of bottomless guacamole, desert sunsets, swimming with manatees and communing with flamingos, the world was in lockdown.
Today we are, indisputably, in a time of living differently, and it has become clear to me that while I am not a traveller by nature — the older I get, the less inclined I am to venture far from home — I really need to once again get away.
From everything. From the daily COVID tally, from the relentlessly dour news, from the second-guessing and misinformation and bad behaviour. From ever-changing rules and restrictions, and the Groundhog Day monotony. From face masks and interminable germ killing, and mostly from the open-ended nature of it all, of not knowing when, how or if it will ever end.
Because it feels like never, though that surely can’t be true. This is not by way of complaint, for there is nothing personally egregious worthy of mention in my little world, and I am fortunate that my daily routine in retirement has been little altered by this pandemic that is proving so hard for so many others.
But knowing that, and being grateful for that, does not stem the pressing need for escape, for wanting to break free, for feeling as if we are all being held captive.
This isn’t really about travel, either. It’s about freedom, and how one’s expectations and realities adjust when even a small part of that freedom is extinguished, no matter the comfort level of life, no matter the greater good.
My new-found wanderlust is a perfect example of that, and it comes as a complete surprise when I find myself dreaming about flying off to Norway and Scotland, holders of my heritage. Or how grand it would be to take the grandchildren to New York, to see a Broadway play and ice skate in Central Park. And wouldn’t it be great to rent a charming little country house in Provence for a whole summer, so the family could head over for baguettes and fresh figs? And my sweet little beach cottage in Washington State: I can’t wait until we meet again. And Maui, oh Maui, how energizing it would be to feel your sun on my face.
This, then, is what COVID has wrought. A world turned upside down, where we are taking stock and shifting priorities. What once mattered maybe matters less one year in. Want to trade your 50-hour work week for afternoons of Peppa Pig with the littles? Yes you do. Want to try your hand at that which you once avoided for lack of time or inclination — walking the neighbourhood, baking bread, building a shed, sewing a skirt, planting a garden, deciphering how Bitcoin works? Well, welcome to COVID culture, where we are embracing new goals like long-lost friends coming home.
Maybe these are just my side-effects, my shifting sands of COVID culture, and maybe they are insignificant in the grand scheme of world strife — but that makes them no less tangible.
The world has changed, and we have changed too. Because, one year in, we have been forced to redefine freedom, to no longer take its quiet power for granted.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s the one good thing that has come out of this viral mess.
Update: My stove conundrum (a malfunctioning 70-year-old electric Frigidaire, for which I had been unable to source parts) has been solved. Diane and Willie of Langley, B.C., read the column, contacted me and today my old stove has been replaced by a new old stove, in mint condition and fully working. The best part? It’s exactly the same stove, only a 1952 model. The original is now in the garage, on replacement parts duty. Let the baking begin.
— Shelley Fralic writes the Life in the 60s column. firstname.lastname@example.org