Well, we tried.
Our family managed to avoid the Covid-19 pandemic for almost three years, but our number finally came up during our overseas holiday visiting family in the US. We caught it in transit, somehow, despite wearing masks as much as possible. Like dominoes cascading downwards, once the first person tested positive the entire family shortly followed. Thanksgiving became Covidsgiving.
Fortunately, we all caught a pretty mild case of the virus – good news as several folks in the family aren’t in the best of health and it was very worrying to see them test positive. It still sucked, particularly as it kind of mucked up our holiday, but after close watching of all the grim headlines the past few years I know it could’ve been so much worse.
All journalists have cliches they loathe to see in print, and “post-pandemic” is one I’ve been kicking out of news copy every chance I get. We’re definitely post-lockdown – whatever your views on that, it’s clear the cultural buy-in for such policies has passed – but “post-pandemic” implies the disease has somehow gone away. If anything, far more people I know have been touched by Covid-19 in 2022 than at any time in the years prior.
The virus felt particularly inescapable these past few months, when it seemed like every friend I knew in New Zealand caught it, especially many who had also managed to avoid it earlier on. It became pretty clear that no matter how hard we tried to do the right thing, we were probably going to get it eventually.
A friendly acquaintance from my 1990s small press comics days, Andrew Ford, died of it in New York recently. An energetic booster of self-publishing comics and bringing rare art back into print, he was just 48 years old when he died. It’d been many years since we’d been in regular touch but it was still a shock to remember this go-getter kid I once knew and exchanged letters and drawings with and to realise he was one of the Covid casualties. I think of Andrew Ford often lately, and the millions of others whose stories have been cut short by Covid.
I traveled an awful lot at the beginning of this year as I first stepped outside the pandemic bubble of New Zealand. Despite having to deal with incredibly lengthy travel, quarantine back home in New Zealand and an Omicron surge, I somehow didn’t catch Covid. Yet this time when my family boarded the plane from NZ to the US, it wasn’t even 72 hours before the first of us tested positive. Both times, I and the rest of my family wore high quality masks.
Last Christmas when I traveled the vast majority of people in transit in Los Angeles and elsewhere I went wore masks in crowded airports. But in November 2022, maybe 20% of the other people in the airport and planes were wearing masks. We tried our best, but when the majority of other people aren’t masking up… well, you get Covid, I guess. We’ll never know who we caught it from – was it the guy coughing a few rows up? Someone at the airport we passed by? It was such a mild case that the contact must have been fleeting. But I do wonder if that person had bothered to mask up in crowded public areas, our holiday might have turned out differently. Everyone’s sick and tired of all this, I get it, and a rugged, brutal individualism has replaced whatever fleeting community spirit first animated our Covid responses. You do you, and well, other people will do whatever.
One of the biggest knock-on effects of the Covid years for me has been a gradual lowering of my respect for other human beings. I hate that I’ve become more judgy, more annoyed at idiots going down conspiracy rabbit holes, pissed off at people flouting mask rules and everyone being outraged all the time – including myself. Many of the people I know who’ve caught Covid at last these recent months have expressed the same frustration – we tried, we did the right thing, we still caught it, so what’s the point?
Despite it all, it was still a good holiday – bonding with my parents and a new baby in the family and seeing the gorgeous colours of fall in California. The trees blazed up into autumn colours and the kinds of brilliant yellows, oranges and reds we just don’t see in our part of New Zealand.
At times the leaves fell in thick fluttering sheets, dotting the bright blue California skies with colour and reminding me that even in this age of outrage and plans never quite working out how you hoped, there are moments where you can still try to be a little more like one of those flimsy leaves, floating on the breeze and letting the sun shine on you while it can. There are no outraged leaves in nature.