There was that time I flew to Houston for an afternoon. A few years ago a conference had wanted me to deliver a single keynote address and nothing more, so they suggested I fly down in the morning, speak in the afternoon, and head home in the evening. It ended up being quite a day—I spoke at a conference 1,500 miles from my home, but woke up and went to sleep in my own bed. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate just what a remarkable thing that was.
On August 15 two of my children need to be just 500 miles south of home in Louisville, Kentucky where my daughter is set to be a freshman at Boyce College and my son is beginning his third year at both Boyce College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Under normal circumstances this would be no more than a one-night trip if we flew or a two-night trip if we drove. But here in the age of coronavirus, it has become an odyssey. For my kids it involves a short journey, a lengthy quarantine, and a quick virus test. For me it involves two short journeys and two lengthy quarantines, one in America and one in Canada (and hopefully 0 virus tests). In fact, I expect that in all of August I will have just a few days where I am completely free to come and go as I wish.
Of course my kids didn’t actually need me to go with them, but I think it made sense to accompany them and to make sure they get set and settled. These are, after all, strange and unstable times, and I don’t fancy the thought of them being on their own on the other side of an international border for two very strange and lonely weeks. Plus, my daughter is a freshman and I want to properly “see her off,” so to speak. So I chose to head down while Aileen stayed put with our younger daughter (who has another month before she begins high school). Now that I think about it, this will be the longest Aileen and I will have been apart since we began dating at 18!
Our journey began on Saturday, August 1. Since land borders between Canada and the U.S. are closed, we had to make the journey by air. I usually fly out of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport a couple of times a month, but for obvious reasons had not set foot in the place since February. Needless to say, it was a very different experience and was marked by masks, six-foot distances, temperature-taking, and all those other pandemic standards. It was eerily quiet in the airport, with just a few flights leaving for just a handful of destinations. This is the new (but hopefully temporary) normal. America has stopped processing many kinds of visas, but thankfully our kids were able to get all their paperwork sorted out and were allowed to proceed into the US.
Our first flight took us to Chicago which was also extremely quiet compared to the usual hustle and bustle. They say that the airlines are flying at only 30% capacity and it was my observation was that only about 30% of the stores and restaurants are open. It makes sense, I suppose, but is very sad. After a layover of a few hours, we hopped aboard a United Airlines flight to Louisville. Some kind folk here have offered us their fully-equipped basement apartment and we settled in on Saturday evening. And here we will remain! According to the CDC’s regulations for travellers entering the United States from foreign countries, we are to stay put for 14 days while avoiding contact with others and monitoring ourselves for symptoms of the virus. Because my daughter is a freshman and has few of the supplies she needs, and because we could not bring them with us, and because we cannot leave the house, we will be doing a lot of online shopping. I’ve also signed us up for Hello Fresh which means we will have meal kits delivered. I’m not much of a chef, but I think I can handle that!
And then what? Move-in day is August 14, the day we are released from quarantine. The kids will need to be tested for the coronavirus at the campus clinic before they can settle into their dorms, so that will be the first order of business. Assuming they test negative, we can then get them moved in. In order to maintain a “clean” campus, the college has to keep parents from entering the dorms, so my role is limited—I just drop them off and wait to ensure they are settled.
If all goes according to plan, I will head home on the first flight out on August 15 and then immediately enter into Canada’s even stricter quarantine program. It involves two weeks of isolation but with the added drama of government officials occasionally verifying that I am abiding by the rules. I am forbidden to leave the property, to interact with anyone except family members, and so on. Thankfully, I am able to do this all within the comfort of my own home. Then, as August finally draws to a close I should be able to get back to normalcy at last.
I suppose I could be frustrated by all of this, but to be honest, I don’t see the point. How would that help me get through it any better? This is the way the world is for now, so I’ve decided to just go with it. If nothing else, it will be a story to tell. Plus, it gives me two weeks with my kids before I need to leave them behind for 3 long months. In that way I fully expect the time to be a blessing.
(Parenthetically, one of the strangest things about this pandemic is that foremost in my mind is not the health consequences of contracting the virus—though obviously I’m not eager to get it—but the many inconveniences any actual or potential exposure might entail. Which is to say, over the past 10 days or so my kids and I have been extraordinarily careful about being exposed to the coronavirus or any other illness. Why? Because our temperature was checked as we walked into the airport and if any of us had a fever we wouldn’t be allowed to fly for 14 days, no matter the cause of that fever. And if any of us actually contracted COVID-19, even if we had only the mildest symptoms, our travel health insurance would be nullified because we would have a pre-existing condition. And so on and so forth. It is not just the illness that presents a challenge, but all the regulations surrounding it!)