A woman on Instagram in the U.S. wrote she was feeling homesick. All she’d done is sit down at a café on the same block where she lived.
I’m planning a trip south in April but struggle to imagine myself at the train station, much less inside a train. It’s been five months since I’ve been outside Coimbra’s city limits. Weeks since I’ve been at a café, months since being inside one. I suggested in my last post that we might be subject to a new form of agoraphobia. Most of us American ex-pats came here planning extensive European travel, but with much of the continent either still shut down or going back under lockdown, we are asking ourselves when – even if – we will be up to facing the planes and trains and hotels of Rome or London or Prague.
It’s been fifteen months since I’ve seen my sons, but, unless there’s an emergency, I won’t go until I have a vaccine. At the same time, I’m very aware of how out of practice I am wrestling international airport crowds, layovers, cramped cabins.
My ancestors made the dangerous ocean crossing from the Netherlands in the 17- and 1800’s. Once here, they stayed put in their small farming communities. Growing up among them, I knew many of my aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins had never been much more than a hundred miles from the towns of their birth. One aunt didn’t ride an escalator until she was in her 50’s. Living in New York State, they’d never been to New York City. Still haven’t.
I’m far more sympathetic after this last year of confinement. All that space out there. All those people. All that’s unknown. Beyond the state line? The town line? What does it matter? We have everything we need right here, and all we can deal with. Births, deaths, illnesses, joy, marriages, meals, money, laugher. I get it. I understand. I’m sorry I ever thought them silly. Or cowardly.
A part of me is exhausted striving to be upbeat while wondering if and when everything will be okay. The waiting, the worry, the setbacks. Covid coming far too close to my family. Watching the numbers rise and fall and rise again. Lockdown after lockdown. At the moment, we can’t travel between towns. We are, however, happy that coffee and juice and small items are, as of last week, “venda no postigo” – literally sold through a peephole, meaning by way of small windows in shop fronts.
I am very aware my situation is privileged compared to that of so many others. I’ve spent the pandemic inside the ease and safety of a cocoon, with a solid safety net of friends. We have all longed for reopening, but the truth is, the closer it gets, the more disconcerting the day the cocoon can be unwrapped. How many of us will choose not to?