“ … and then, COVID struck.”

 As a storyteller, a reader of, and a listener and watcher of stories, I’ve been hearing the above line constantly from others, while watching it play out in my own life and the lives of those I know and love.

For myself, it’s been a tale of an expected job that no longer existed, a part-time job that no longer had any hours available, and a casual job in probably the most essential industry, where my hours and subsequent remuneration are unknown from day to day, let alone week to week.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones, although with better foresight I probably would have planned for a global pandemic a little better. As a permanent resident in Australia rather than a citizen, I have little government help and am ineligible for Jobkeeper or Jobseeker benefits. I’ve been lucky to find other work that pays my rent and my admittedly fine taste in food, and thus far I’m mucking along.

As a New Zealander who also holds Irish citizenship, I would have been better off financially to have gone home early to either country. Health-risk wise and leadership wise, I wish I’d taken the Aotearoa option way back when. It’s still an option but, having finally started to rebuild a work history in Melbourne after 20 years working abroad, I’m seeing how Melbourne pans out for me for now.

I’m also “lucky” in terms of isolation. My job/s allow me to get out and interact with others, in ways that are satisfying and worthwhile, and I’m often happy to get home to my solitary refuge. Having lived and worked in multiple countries where I did not speak the language, I’m accustomed to social isolation and the need to form strong communities and friendships that transcend physical boundaries.

Among those communities and friendships are many who have bigger challenges – a couple separated by circumstance as one continues to work in China while the other builds their forever home in Panama. The partner in China is the one with Spanish fluency but the Panama-stranded partner is more than rising to the occasion. Border policies in multiple regions will dictate when they can finally reunite.

There’s a new friend who teaches in Milan, which bore the brunt of Covid’s initial brutal blows in Italy, and her enthusiasm for her students and her work and her life in Italy, and her enthusiasm for life in general, is more infectious than any global pandemic, no matter how deadly.

Others have lost friends and whanau to this dreadful disease, and one of its worst side effects for those unaffected is the loss of ability to physically comfort them. I weep with them and grieve for them and would give my limited kingdom for a hug, rather than a horse.

I’m also fortunate to have a voice, and an outlet, and a publisher who trusts me and allows me freedom. I choose to use that voice to tell stories that inspire and help others, or highlight where such help is needed. I’d like to make this column a stage for those stories.

This disease has taken much from us, but it has also given us lucky ones more human moments, more meaningful interactions, more conversations with complete strangers. I’d like this column to share those stories also.

A few weeks into Melbourne’s second lockdown, I tracked down what I think was the city’s last elliptical cross trainer for rent, and grabbed it while I could. I have it set up by the glass door to my second-floor balcony and am relishing the views from my treadmill and how they change during the day.

This column is informed by my musings while watching life continue outside that door and on the treadmill that each day offers us. Feel free to contact me with stories you think should be shared.


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