We loved it here, and then Covid happened
We had only been in New Zealand about nine months before returning to Seattle for the first time. Our friends were naturally curious. Was New Zealand as awesome as they heard? Were we happy we did it? Should they move too? They were eager to hear every detail, and we obliged.
But questions like that can lead to awkward answers. There’s a fine line between loving Wellington and implying that we don’t love Seattle. It’s easy to celebrate all the things we love, but hard not to slip into comparisons that might be hurtful. We loved Seattle, and still do, but Wellington fits us better.
So I found myself pointing out New Zealand’s flaws as a way to avoid mentioning America’s. I’d stress that there’s no Amazon and watch my friend’s jaw drop. But I’d be thinking “I am happier in a world where I can’t buy anything I want on Amazon at any time. And I have less crap in my house.” Or I’d point out how the build quality of the houses is really poor, and let my friends feel better about their decision to stay in the States. That was a much easier conversation to have.
Being in Seattle was a reminder that I belonged in Wellington. My kids almost stepped on a hypodermic needle in bare feet in a local park, and saw someone passed out in the van they were living in. And I realised I had seen that view hundreds of times and blocked it out, because it’s just part of living in Seattle. So the longer I live in Wellington, the more gratitude I felt about it. And then Covid happened.
New Zealand has been in the international press a lot this year because we successfully handled Covid. Life here is 99% normal. We don’t wear masks, schools and businesses are fully open, and everything’s just chugging along the way it did in 2019. The main differences are that we don’t have tourists right now and you’re supposed to sign into each store with a Covid app, just in case another outbreak emerges.
But it’s taken our original awkward feelings and made them worse. I feel awful for our friends in the States, including a few nurses and a doctor. I feel awful for everyone in the States, and I wish there was something I could do. It feels ghoulish to talk about going to concerts, not wearing a mask, or having a pretty good life. We’ve got some surviver’s guilt. But more than anything our gratitude has doubled.