Overwhelmedness

Is that even a word?

As I sat on the plane, with 2 hours 30 minutes to go until we landed in London, it was certainly the description of the state that I found myself in.

A trip that in the past would have been unremarkable, and gone mostly unremarked. 28 hours from Auckland Airport to London Heathrow, a trip done many times before. But this time was special – a visit to meet Alfie, our three month old grandson, and to be with Rob & Jenna who were married last year, sans family, behind a perspex screen in a registry office, in lockdown.

We “zoomed” in to see them married, followed their pregnancy on zoom, celebrated the birth of Alfred Ernest Hall with champagne, on zoom. But now the waiting was almost over.

I thought I’d be excited, and of course, I was… if “excitement” simply describes a state of heightened emotion. But really the joyous excitement had been overtaken weeks and months before the departure, with the enormous weight of reality. The determined effort to get vaccinated before we flew, the new processes and procedures, the ever-changing rules, the difficulty (pre-Aussie bubble) of finding a booking in managed isolation for our return.

And then as the travel date loomed, fear set in. Not the fear of flying, nor even the fear of the dreaded virus, but that fear that keeps you awake, night after night, dwelling on all the things that could go wrong. Each morning, as I opened my eyes, I would do a mental scan – am I okay, no signs of cold or flu? Is Peter okay… is that sneeze a portent of a reason to be refused travel?

Have I read the instructions right, filled in the right forms? Have I booked the right tests, from the right places, at the right times? Peak anxiety appeared when Peter’s “fit to fly” Covid test result didn’t come through at the same time as mine – another sleepless night, discussions of whether I would fly without him.

We made no plans beyond just getting to London. When Rob asked us what we’d like to do or see while here, he was met with blank stares. All our pre-departure energies had focused simply on being here.

And then, just like that, it was time to go. Fifty kilograms of checked luggage – how did that happen? Last time we visited London, we had 15kg, of which 3kg was chocolates and Marmite for Jenna. How a baby changes things!

Empty airports. Empty planes. Plastic gloves, Janola wipes, masks, hand sanitiser – super-careful about touching anything at all. Same-same, but different.

As I finally write this, five days on, relaxation is setting in. Alfie is simply gorgeous, and I would not have missed this for the world. Rob and Jenna were so very grateful to see us – on Saturday they celebrated leaving the house together without the baby for the very first time (it was only to get takeaway coffee, but still a milestone). We’re trying to help out, without taking over – they are doing a spectacular job of being parents.

We are still being super careful. London is learning to live with the virus – so different from the lockdown mentality in Australasia, where people are “free” but borders remain firmly shut, still targeting that elusive ‘elimination’. There will no doubt be time for more reflection on that in the next weeks and months, but meanwhile, I’m off to hug the baby!

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