The Pain and Privilege of Staying at Home for One Year

Today, it has been one year since we canceled our spring break plans because of the Covid outbreak. Little did we know that it would only be the first of many cancellations and that we would be staying at home for a whole year. No visits. No visitors. One overnight trip. That’s our year in a nutshell.

My wife and I have underlying conditions. That is why we were careful. We weren’t paralyzed by fear. In fact, we often thought about breaking our routine. Last spring, for example, then during the summer, and in the fall, we started toying with the idea of doing something normal… but every time we started thinking, “maybe it’s safe to be around people again,” we were faced with two unmistakable warning signs. First, people who we saw return to their previous routines usually ended up getting the virus. Second, virus surges inevitably followed periods of ‘optimistic’ behavior. The pattern was clear. We did not want to become part of the problem.

So, we stayed put.

Another month.

Another two.

Another three.

Now it’s been twelve.

I have become a sort of an introvert in my later years, so the pain of staying at home didn’t affect me in the same way that it did my wife—who is the breadwinner and used to travel a lot for work—and my two kids, who have been doing school from home ever since this started. Watching what this isolation has done to them has broken my heart time and time again. I know that they are resilient and will recover but it will never erase the feeling that they ‘lost’ a year out of their lives.

The pain of the isolation and uncertainty was made worse by the fact that we saw a stark difference in how authorities in Texas — where we live — treated the virus compared to authorities in Iceland, where we come from and our family resides. There, the emphasis was on testing and quarantining. In many ways, the Icelandic people have gone through long stretches of time where life was almost normal due to those practices. No such luck here. It has been infuriating to witness the politicization of public health policy.

Like Gump would say, that’s all I have to say about that.

Of course, in comparison to others, we hardly suffered at all. Our quarantine led to seclusion and the disruption of normal life, but we did not get sick or lose anyone, nor did we get laid off and worry about how to pay our bills.

We are well aware of how privileged we have been. Being able to work from home, buy groceries online, and be otherwise self-sufficient contrasted drastically with those who were forced to work in terrible conditions — often putting their lives on the line — and the grief of those who were dealing with the loss of a loved one or the loss of their means of sustenance. Having grieved and struggled financially ourselves in previous years, we can only imagine how much stress that added onto an otherwise difficult situation.

Yesterday, my wife and I got the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. We got a robocall at 2.20 PM, which stated that due to cancellations we were eligible to come and get the vaccine between 3 and 7 PM that day. At 3.30 PM we were back home, first shot in the arm. I can’t begin to describe the relief and elation we both felt. My wife shed some tears and I started dancing. A tremendous weight was lifted off our shoulders. Life is closer to returning to normal than it has been for a long time. We will continue to be cautious until we are fully vaccinated, but this summer sure looks better than it did just two days ago.

As we chart our way forward, we are learning to balance the feelings of pain and privilege that a year of staying at home has wrought on us. As in any grieving process, I think it is important to acknowledge the difficulties that we went through and allow ourselves time to work through the emotions that came up. At the same time, being aware of the privilege puts our experience into perspective. It feels good to be able to count our blessings and talk about all the things that we learned about ourselves as we stepped up and adapted to a new situation that would have been unimaginable just fourteen months ago.

Icelandic-American author, bridge-builder, interfaith minister, and amateur musician. Learn more at www.gudjonbergmann.com

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