It’s a new year. But while we all look to the coming months, it is worth thinking back to the past weeks. The holidays in 2020 have not been easy. Due to the pandemic, many people grappled with the difficult choice whether to spend the festive season with their families or alone. How did they decide? E&M asked young Europeans how they spent their holidays this year. Read on to hear from guest writer Lorraine Doyle, who celebrated Christmas on the other side of the world, far away from her home and family in Ireland. Head over to LEGS for the stories by some Europeans who did decide to travel.
It was November 2018 just before the emergence of Covid-19 and my life had just led me toward a very hard decision. I was in that uncomfortable, unsettled space that one finds themselves when they can no longer deny a difficult truth. As a result I found myself meditating on a very bizarre desire…
I was living in New Zealand and I qualified for residency. My difficult truth was that I now wanted to choose a new life here over the one that had always been in my heart – to live in West Kerry, Ireland near my family. To put the anguish in context, I had never contemplated anywhere but the West of Ireland as my permanent home. Even after several years of global travel, it had always been in my heart to return to Co. Kerry. There is no way to fully describe the connection I feel there. Not in poetry, not in a hundred carefully chosen words. I feel I have lived and died there a thousand times over. It grounds me, it comforts me. But unfortunately, my home country has never supported me – I have always struggled there. If not financially, then emotionally.
I had found myself instead in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with a great job, a wonderful new partner and a culture that resonated so strongly with my soul that I had been willing just one year earlier to quite literally turn my entire life upside down to stay on a temporary visa. Less than a year later (and just before Covid-19 hit) here I found myself in the fortunate position to qualify for residency. But in that final moment of submission, in choosing New Zealand over my country of birth, I couldn’t help but feel tortured. I would have done anything to relieve myself of the choice. And in making what I felt to be the most emotional decision I had ever made in my life – I found myself wishing for a very bizarre thing:
‘I wish that something – anything – would happen so that I could just be stuck here instead, in New Zealand, with the unbearable weight of this decision lifted off my shoulders’. Who could have known at the time that I was wishing for a pandemic. The very idea of a global shut down at the time seemed completely ridiculous, absolutely impossible. No one in a million years could have imagined that something like this would actually happen. And so, as the proverb goes, “be careful what you wish for”. We joke here about the ‘team of five million’ but we’re all aware of a very real underlying solidarity. Trust was built early and fast during the pandemic – which may I remind you – only hit hard here for about four weeks. Clear collective action on the part of the government and the people was evident from day one. Results were sought through compassion, transparency and a reliance on science and evidence. All the tracking technology in the world is no comparison to a community as large as 5 million reacting in trust to their prime minister.
It is an absolute privilege to still be here, to still have my life, to work hard within this community, to pay my taxes and contribute. Living in Queenstown, I am surrounded by the natural beauty that New Zealand is globally renowned for, and for the most part, life has continued as normal. I’ve made some questionable decisions in my life, but the decision to choose New Zealand was without a doubt, the best I’ve ever made. But every now and then I reach into my pocket and my phone will remind me of the turmoil and hardship back home. I’m reminded of my place of birth, the country I’ve abandoned for a better life and I’m overcome by heart wrenching guilt. I wish I could be there in solidarity during this crazy time. But I am just another body of flesh, another potential transmitter of the virus, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to help.I had a tough time when I was living back home in Ireland. I was one of the cohort of people who graduated at the height of the recession and now, hearing of decline in the economy there again brings hard memories. Standing in a dole queue in water logged shoes from Primark that will tread nowhere. Because in a country where it constantly pours from the heavens, you have to have money to do anything outside your own home. Being poor in Ireland feels lonely. I cannot fathom how hard it would be to re-experience this now with even further social barriers. For some without the comfort of any company at all.
Yet despite life continuing as normal here, you must also remember my ‘wish’ has come true. I am stuck here as requested. And although my application has been submitted, I am not yet a resident and I cannot leave until such a time as I am. The borders are closed to everybody except citizens and residents, and if I were to leave, I would lose absolutely everything I have here. I would lose my one shot at residency, my home, my boyfriend, my job, my friends and I also would not be able to come back. On top of this, with ever growing visa processing delays on account of this very pandemic, it will be a long time before I see Ireland again.
Ironically, the New Zealand residency that I agonised over will in actual fact be the only thing to eventually give me the freedom to travel home, to hug my family again. But it could be years. Nobody knows. You can’t shed a tear for the unknown. I can only sit here with my pain when I feel lonely for home, and count my blessings for all that I do have here in New Zealand.
I wanted to base this article around not being able to travel home for holidays but – truth be told – everyday here feels like a Christmas that I can’t travel home for. I desperately miss my family. I cannot have a pint in happy silence with my Dad nor can I potter about the small gift shops with my mum. They can’t do that without me now anyway. It makes me so sad. I watched my nephew open his presents at 8pm in silent drunk tears missing everything about home and all the magic that Christmas can be in Ireland. I think of my residency application and how bizarre it is that the current global crisis has made this decision both the easiest and the most painful one I’ve ever made.
But at the end of the day, I have to remember how lucky I am to be here. It’s easier not to think too much about Christmas, in the sun, two wines deep. I am still working and I have the privilege of a pay cheque at the end of the week. I have the privilege of a slight hangover because I spent Christmas with my boyfriend’s family. I can sit with them, place my hand on their shoulders, look them in the eye. I can hug them when I leave. A luxury not everybody in Europe has right now.
And so I’ll conclude with that well known proverb that we’ve all heard before, the one where we’re all to be careful about what we wish for. Which really, at the end of the day, is only another way of saying to accept the present and to be present. A lesson we’ve been forced to learn globally this year. We need to remind ourselves that in life, we really have nothing else. We cannot predict nor plan and the present pandemic reminds us more than ever of how absolutely wild and unpredictable life can be, for absolutely everyone, at any given time.
I’m sure, in the same wild and unpredictable manner that Covid-19 entered and impacted our lives, one day it will leave us also. And one day I’ll also travel home again.
Cover photo: by illustrator Ines Ehinger (@cloudsandillustrations)