Why quarantine can be a gift

As New Zealand begins a compulsory four-week lockdown, Leena Tailor, a Kiwi journalist in Los Angeles who has been two weeks in quarantine, spells out what good might come of it all.

Two weeks ago, I met my best friend Gabe at the mall to take my bridesmaid dress in for alterations ahead of her April 4 wedding.

Traffic was quiet and parking was a breeze, as Los Angeles increasingly hunkered down amid virus concerns, but with the full severity of the pandemic not having set in – nor an official lockdown – the hopeful possibility of the nuptials forging ahead continued hanging by a thread.

Afterwards, we noticed one of my favourite musicians, Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik sitting in an empty café. Conscious of handshakes, hugs and unnecessary hellos now being taboo, I hesitated but went ahead and approached the guy I’ve wanted to meet for 20+ years. He happily chatted, shook our hands and even agreed to an interview. We then enjoyed wine and more wedding chatter, optimistic the ceremony would proceed.

“What a fun day!” I thought as I drove home.

It was the last day before the #stayhome hashtags set in and I entered quarantine, and when I eventually pick up that dress, the world will be a different place. I’ve spent the days since isolating at my one-bedroom apartment and while it shouldn’t feel too different given that I work from home, it’s vastly harder once you lose any choice in the matter.

However, the biggest struggle hasn’t been missing happy hours or hikes. It’s been the daily debate in my mind about whether I should fly home, mixed with the frustration of watching NZ trail a few steps behind while many remain deaf to warnings.

As case numbers grew, I urged my family to stay home, avoid socialising, wash their hands. My diabetic, high-risk dad continued roaming Auckland. My sister partied on St. Patrick’s Day. My uncle suggested a pub get-together before everything shuts.

My frustration turned into anger. I tearfully lay in bed with all the worst-case scenarios running through my mind. “What if Air NZ halts LA flights, too? What if someone becomes ill, but by the time I’ve returned and isolated for two weeks, it’s too late?”

I signed petitions, shared memes, posted articles, bombarded family chats, desperate for everyone to grasp the severity of the situation. “I almost want to get the virus just so my family take it seriously. Is that crazy?” I texted a friend.

I remained gobsmacked that the Government, having admirably moved ahead of the ball with border closures, wasn’t enforcing a stricter lockdown yet.

Yet, when the moment came on Monday afternoon that Jacinda Ardern announced alert level four, I didn’t immediately feel relieved, happy or grateful. Instead, as she harrowingly declared New Zealand was “preparing to go into self-isolation as a nation” and listed out playgrounds, cinemas, schools, cafes and all the taken-for-granted spots that would be shutting down, I burst into tears as the overwhelming monstrosity of the pandemic hit home. Literally.

Suddenly, it felt too real.

That night my dad went out again, my best friends got into an argument that broke up our whatsapp group and my tears resumed.

This time, on the morning after lockdown news I had the luxury of knowing that the daunting prospect of a month-long shutdown isn’t as terrifying as the shutdown itself. Yes, the economic impact is devastating. But for now, the world (albeit some people more than others) gets a break. You get a break.

After the initial shock and alarming realisation that the country is in isolation wears off, beautiful things will start to happen. Businesses will give away free food to those in need. Rarely-talking neighbours will check in on each other. Musicians will stream free concerts online to make up for cancelled ones. Families will take daily strolls together. Parents will witness milestone moments with their young ones. You’ll see more of some friends on video calls in two weeks, than you have in-person all year. You’ll read that book, watch that movie or develop those top chef skills.

I’ve lived away from home for 10 years, but returned for the past few summers. Every year, I’m increasingly saddened at how difficult it is to get my entire extended family together. It’s even become so challenging with my immediate family that we’re yet to schedule our 2019 Christmas dinner.

Now, I find myself feeling FOMO about their next few weeks together.

We may not realise it until coronavirus is written into the history books, but the next month is a gift. It will have dire consequences for the economy, employment and even mental health, but for now we’ve been handed a permission slip to simply sit at home with loved ones. One day, we will look back on this time and think of all we could have done. In our lifetimes, it’s the only forced extended break we’ll ever get.

Use it.

Stay home.

Don’t watch too much news – the world is a mess and New Zealand case numbers will go up before they go down, so it won’t always make you feel great.

Be kind, show compassion, tolerate more. No one is okay, right – not your brother you just fought with over dirty dishes left in the sink, not your neighbour who’s standing less than two metres away from the courier guy, not the teacher who’s late sending your kid’s lesson plan and certainly not the Countdown clerk you just yelled at for not knowing when the next toilet paper will roll in.

Embrace heightened emotions. It’s perfectly normal to cry more, worry more, argue more, fear more, stress more.

Just remember to love more.

If anyone can find beauty, innovation and unity in isolation, it’s Kiwis.

New Zealand, you got this.

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