I hugged my daughter yesterday, knowing I might not see her before Christmas, and we both shed a quick tear. I laughed because we’re not the “crying type.” She slid into the passenger side of a rented mini-van stuffed to the gills with luggage for five, plus two ginormous pieces chock full of the essentials, and two work bags as the family headed to Austin’s International Airport around 4 pm on their way to London.
Heroic to pack up a young family for adventures on another continent, but on March 14, 2020—the night the President added Britain to the US travel ban two days hence—beyond bravery. We’d known for months—before Thanksgiving—that her husband’s corporate job would require a move across the pond so they could be together. Then December’s news of fatalities from the Coronavirus in China seemed far off and unrelated to day-to-day life in the Western world.
But like a much more serious version of “Baby Shark,” the disease crept into Italy and Korea, then further west to Spain and Germany, as it peppered the planet, coming to Washington state and New York, then sprinkled throughout America. Now several governors and the president have declared an emergency to prevent America’s health care system from being overwhelmed by lack of hospital beds, ventilators, and skilled medical staff to treat critical patients.
Protecting against the virus by washing hands and avoiding touching one’s face seems too easy and staying home with elementary-school-aged children for countless days seems too hard and financially brutal. Working from home, if it’s possible, is an option for some. There’s little appeal to a constant drudge from inside one’s own walls, but that’s where working life in America is headed for now, leaving out those whose jobs require them to BE somewhere else.
Airport Reality: March 14
Challenges laid ahead Saturday night as the family’s departure time for their flight to London scheduled for 7:55 pm kept getting pushed further into the night. With their household goods already shipped, technically their move began a month ago. Turning back wasn’t an option. They entertained the kids with relays and obstacle courses around a half-empty airport. Exhausted and still not onboard around 9:30, they launched a kid video, which provided a much-needed hour and a half of quiet, childhood bliss.
During this respite, the British crew marched onto the plane, offering encouragement that the plane would fly “tonight.” This followed by an email my daughter received from a neighbor that someone who arrived in Austin onboard the British Airways flight at the terminal had tested positive for the virus. Austin’s ground crew refused to clean the plane, but with negotiation the British Airways’ employees agreed to—maybe they too were eager to get to London and not be stuck away from home for several weeks.
Well cleaned the plane boarded at 11:20 and flew at 11:56, just four minutes before the crew would time out and be required to leave the plane, stranding the passengers. My six-year old grandson and his three-year-old sister slept well throughout the flight, but the eight-year-old, a bit more agitated by the evening’s uncertainties and eager to end up in Harry Potter land, slumbered for two hours or less. They all arrived at Heathrow about 8:30 Austin time, eager for their first English breakfast (think bangers and mushrooms, etc.) only to find restaurants closed and even peanut butter missing from the grocery shelves. So, the Brits hoard in a crisis, too. By that point those jelly sandwiches tasted better than expected.
With a little calm, advanced planning, we’ll have our PB & J sandwiches. Life may be more solitary, maybe meals a bit less complicated. The key is to be sensible and thoughtful to keep our communities, our neighbors, family, friends and colleagues healthy. We don’t need to be digitally isolated, enabling us to reach out to others online. We can make it through this if we hang together, but keep our distance!