Guest writer: Melina Cool, California
On March 11th, I was on a flight from Australia to New Zealand. I had just finished my term being an au pair (live-in nanny) in Perth, Western Australia. At this point, I was on my way to be an au pair again for a different family, this time in Auckland, New Zealand.
Before I left, my friend asked me, “Aren’t you worried about Coronavirus while you travel to NZ?”
I smiled calmly and replied, “Not really, there’s not many cases here in Perth and there’s almost none in NZ, so I feel safe enough.”
Fast forward to March 23rd: I was frantically on the phone with my father trying to figure out booking a flight out of New Zealand and back to California (my homeland) ASAP. The prime minister had just announced earlier on that day that the country was going into full lockdown, schools will be closing, mandatory shelter-in-place occurring, and soon there will be no flights even domestically in the country.
The number of cases in the country jumped from about 30 to over 200 in the span of a few days.
I started mentally imagining all my plans and dreams for my time in NZ crumbling. They would not happen for the foreseeable future. And why be in a foreign country if I couldn’t explore it? I had it in mind that I would stop being an au pair after a short period and travel around the country working in hostels, or on farms.
I did not connect well with the host family I was staying with and did not want to be in quarantine with people I did not feel comfortable to be my truest self around. I felt a rising sensation within myself, one of loneliness and a deep wanting to be where my truest loved ones were. I knew once those feelings took over that I had to leave, and quickly, before all flights into and out of the country stopped for who knows how long. I booked a flight for less than 24 hours later. After 20 hours of traveling I arrived back home
My dad left my car for me in the airport parking lot, and he and my stepmom waved to me from 10 feet away in their car. I almost cried, I missed them so much for months and couldn’t be physically near them.
I was also scared because I had just been driving on the left side of the road for 6 months and was nervous to be so tired from traveling and jump back into right side driving. I had to do it anyway because I needed to drive up to the place I would be doing my self-quarantine in total isolation, so as not to possibly infect my family after being in airports and on planes for almost a whole day.
I have been back home in California for a little over a week now. I am staying all by myself in a little camper on my aunt’s property, which is in a small rural town called Cool (great name, I know). It was near here that I spent most of my childhood, and I felt very relieved to be back where I felt safest and most at home during so much global insanity.
My aunt, cousin, and grandma are staying inside of my aunt’s house which is just across the way from my camper, but my days are in total isolation for now. Which I have been simultaneously relishing and despising. I am an extrovert; I have never lived completely on my own before. These two weeks are the very first taste I’ve ever had of what it would be like to live alone. And while I love the freedom it comes with, I also crave connection and am not very free at all since we are in a shelter-in-place, of course.
So far, my time in complete quarantine has consisted of feeding and tending to the animals on my aunt’s farm which has been amazing. I’m incredibly grateful for being able to interact with them. I play my ukulele and sing songs every day, but I am fortunate that I was already able to do that for the last couple years. I can not live without singing, it helps me in tremendous ways. I have been doing yoga when it’s sunny (no room to in a camper, ha) and hoop dancing as well. I also am fortunate that the property is right next to a bunch of amazing trails, so I’ve gone on a handful of hikes here as well. All these things help my mental health in insurmountable ways. I would not be okay if I didn’t have these few creative outlets.
Each day I find myself alternating between serenity and calm, being full of joy and happy to just be alone outside. It is a relief finally being on my own and not having to go right back into a job. Then I have one stray thought of doubt and spiral into anxiety about not having a job and not knowing if I will any time soon. And not knowing what I will really do with myself at all after these first two weeks. This pandemic has altered my entire reality in a span of days with my social life, financial stability, and daily life all doing a bit of a 180. It is nerve racking but freeing in a way too.
I think this is the most massive wake-up call most of us will ever see in our lifetimes.
In my many moments of chilling out and contemplating the reality of our world, I think now more than ever we need compassion for ourselves and for others. I think we need to check in more often with those we are close with and even think about reaching out to those we may not keep in as close of touch with but played crucial roles in our lives.
We need to check in with ourselves and embrace ourselves more than we ever had before. Radical self-love, especially if you are spending all your time only with yourself. Hug yourself, make your favorite foods (if you can), do small things each day that help heal your heart. This is a chance to dive into what matters most to us, and really reflect on how we want to spend our lives out in the world once we get the blessing to leave the house for more than the most basic necessities again.
I think, unfortunately, a large portion of people will not want to change the way that they’ve always lived. I think that for the wellbeing of our planet we must slow the means of production for a long time. This pandemic is giving us a small glimpse of that.
Coronavirus is a problem, the collapsing economy is a big problem…imminent irreparable damage to our planet is the biggest problem. Yes, it is incredibly unstable in the world economically right now. But there is something the ethnobotanist Terence McKenna once said about the dire need for an “archaic revival” in our world.
We have been a drain on the planet, living in discordance with it instead of in harmony with it. Rampant consumerism is hard to avoid now that there are 7+ billion people and much of the world relies on the convenient comforts we have become accustomed to.
I do not know how humanity will do with reverting back to our roots and learning to yield food from the land ourselves instead of relying on factory farming and grocery stores. I surely do not have all the answers, just the dreams of living a simpler, nature-focused life.
I think the world needs community going forward after the pandemic. The US specifically has become such a drastically individualist culture. And most people in this culture do not look out for or care for people other than themselves or their immediate friends and family members.
But creating communities could create more kindness and kinship with our fellow humans. It would create a sense of duty and belonging to live with many groups of families and friends where we all do our equal parts in contributing to the community and making sure everyone is provided for. Sustainable farming communities would be my biggest dream for the world to start having more of moving forward.
I am hopeful but bracing myself for the worst moving forward. I have big dreams for this lovely planet we get to call home. Stay healthy and safe everyone.