That, I think, is the only way to sum up 2021.
Each time I’ve sat down to write my “Christmas letter”, I’ve been overwhelmed by the mish mash of conflicting memories, thoughts and feelings of a year with so much to celebrate, yet so very much to lament.
Asked recently to nominate my “word of the year”, I chose “languishing”, framed in this NYT article as the dominant feeling of the year.
With New Zealand’s borders remaining effectively closed – yes, even to our own New Zealand citizens abroad, apart from the lucky few who ‘score’ a ticket to hotel-based quarantine, and can afford to pay for it – there are more family than ever that we will be missing at our Christmas table this year.
It’s a global pandemic – I know this, and I’m deeply grateful for the early response in New Zealand and Australia that kept us safe while the scientists worked in truly miraculous ways to deliver not one but many vaccination (and now treatment) solutions. What happened next in this part of the world has been bemusing, distressing and just plain dumb. Bumbled efforts to get early access to the vaccines – explained away under the “be kind” mantra of allowing them to go to other countries that needed them more than we did – meant we were late to the vaccination party, and virgin territory for the new variants that crept in during the year.
This allowed fear and misinformation to spread – making it harder to vaccinate vulnerable populations, and providing a rationale for even more fear-based government control of our lives. Having grown up in a country where a regime ruled by fear, I recognise the signals. The one line mantras, the orchestrated press conferences, the compliant media… but then I take heart from the knowledge that at least our politicians are well-meaning, and that ultimately, New Zealanders are not genuinely as compliant and sheep-like as we have been made to appear in the past two year. Hope springs eternal.
And while I fear the consequences of building public compliance on a culture of fear, I am paradoxically pleased that this has ultimately resulted in massive uptake of the vaccination when it did finally arrived, with over 90% of eligible New Zealanders now double vaxxed. A cause for celebration indeed.
There was also much to celebrate personally this year.
Isabel and Matthew – now 9 and 12 – took to home-based learning like the proverbial ducks to water, and both had stellar school years despite the challenges. Lockdowns meant that we saw far too little of them in person, truly missing the hugs, the always interesting conversations and the sleepovers.
Alfred Ernest Hall arrived in March, a lockdown grand-baby, in London. Having missed Rob & Jenna’s lockdown wedding last year, Peter and I set off on what was perhaps our most adventurous trip ever, navigating international travel in covid-times, to spend a glorious two months with them in London (with a side trip to Greece) midyear.
Seeing your own children turn into amazing parents is perhaps one of life’s greatest joys, and both Pip & Howard, and Rob & Jenna continue to make us so very proud. We are also deeply grateful that all of them have been able to continue working, in jobs that sustain them, not just financially, but emotionally as well.
The challenges of 2021 were many, with so little to be certain of, and so much damage all around us, at a global, societal and personal level.
I did not cope well with lockdown – turns out that although I say I work from home, being forced to do so (as opposed to working from cafes, shared office spaces and other people’s offices) really does not work for me at all. The real meaning of being an extrovert – taking your energy from interactions with other people – was laid bare, and I know I became that crazy woman, constantly outraged about something, large or small.
Through 107 days of lockdown in Auckland, I kept myself sane with the small challenge of writing a limerick each day. Some were good, some were truly awful – and some prompted friends and family to chime in with their own contributions. This taster from my last one on Day 107….
Thinking it seems, is a very lost art So easy it is to deal just with one part they taught us to fear death of those we hold dear at expense of society breaking apart
Worse than my first world angst, however, was the impact of lockdowns on Mum. Aged care facilities were particularly fearful of the virus getting in, seemingly unaware of the devastating mental effects of isolation on their residents. During much of the lockdown periods, residents were not even allowed to form small support groups to have a simple cup of tea or conversation with each other. Technology challenges meant that video calls were difficult. This took its toll on Mum’s cognitive function, and her quality of life. And while things are better now we can see each other again – the long term damage remains. Very sad.
My brother Don in Melbourne has been a pillar of support during this time – somehow, it’s been possible to grow closer despite the forced being apart. With several trips to Auckland booked and then aborted at the last moment during the year, he hasn’t seen Mum, or his two children here, in almost two years, and will be missing out on being at his firstborn son’s wedding in March. His lack of a NZ passport means he can’t come in, even if he did get an MIQ spot or the long-promised self-quarantine is introduced – that’s all for NZ citizens & residents only.
And so we head into our annual Christmas feast with depleted numbers, and with a firm resolve to live each day to its fullest. In 2022, we will take our opportunities to do what we can when we can, especially things that bring us closer together. We will accept unpredictable outcomes – and be flexible and agile in making our plans. We will vaccinate, and self-test… and be careful but not fearful.
We will avoid stupid people like the plague – because they may actually be carrying the plague – and we will hug those we care about, in the knowledge that we and they are doing all we can to stay safe.
It will be a year of travel – cautious, unpredictable travel, but travel nonetheless – as the world re-opens, with or without the Hermit Kingdom of Aotearoa.
From our whanau to yours, we wish you the merriest of merry Christmases, wherever you may be, and may all your wishes for 2022 come true.
Noho ora mai | Look after yourself