As I write this, I’m rounding out Day 8 of a 14-day government-mandated quarantine in a hotel just outside of Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve just moved with my husband and two kids from Summer in Portland, Oregon. Coronavirus is on the rise again and there have been demonstrations for justice day and night for six weeks straight.
It’s Winter in New Zealand, and my brain struggles to adjust in this Groundhog Day scenario: wake up, have coffee while the guards keep an eye on me and my husband, go for our daily supervised greenspace time from 8-9am, get a health check at 10am and then keep our kids from fighting for the rest of the day. We are well-taken care of and watched at all times.
Today is the first day that typing and writing have felt even remotely possible. Focus, concentration, and anything that requires higher processing have been hard to access. Our departure from America and arrival to New Zealand are nothing like what we had imagined when we envisioned making the move. Immigrating during a pandemic and a revolution was never in the plan. Our itinerary has changed weekly for the past few months (not at all stressful when you’re moving your whole family to a different country).
It began in April 2019, when my husband and I decided to take the first steps toward moving our family to New Zealand. He grew up in New Zealand, and our kids have dual citizenship, so I proceeded with applying for a visa. I had been to New Zealand a few times before, enough to know what a wonderful country it is. I also made it a mission on our last trip to check out the local trails. Overwhelmed with options, I picked a handful to run, with a promise to return for longer to explore more.
Fast forward to the end of 2019, I’d secured a permanent resident visa, made my first 100-mile race attempt, and started the process of closing down a thriving integrative medical practice. Like everyone, we had filled our 2020 calendar with Spring and Summer adventures. I had a list of trail runs I wanted to do with my local trail sisters. We planned to see my East Coast family and all of our friends on a farewell tour of America. We picked an immigration date of September 3rd, which would mark exactly 20 years to the day that I first set foot in Oregon to attend medical school.
After we set that date, the departure grief started to set in. Thinking about leaving was both exciting and terrifying. I found that more often than not, as I was running, the grief would invade my chest as I visited all my favorite spots in the Pacific NW, knowing I may not be back for a very long time, if ever.
Grief has no sense of timing and comes in waves. Fortunately, my heart would also burst with joy alongside the grief. Always a simple and reliable method of stress management for me, trail running evolved into a complex exercise demanding I feel my feelings immediately and rapidly.
Running and crying is a thing, you know. Running through the woods and crying one minute, laughing the next is also a thing.
Grief and Joy are both Love.
I love my people, my trail sisters, and my connection to nature. I made peace with feeling both at the same time. I had to, to survive.
Running has gotten me through so many of life’s tough spots. Oregon shut down earlier than a lot of states and suddenly my list of places I wanted to go for “one last run” got shorter. I ran loops in my neighborhood. I ran a marathon in my backyard. I did a virtual overnight race (again, in my neighborhood). With each run, I could feel the truth of our situation more clearly. We needed to move sooner. More waves of grief upon realizing I wouldn’t see my family on the East Coast, that they couldn’t travel here, and we couldn’t fly there. By May, we had adjusted our travel plans to leave in early July.
That’s when running got put on hold. We had to tetris our life into suitcases and close my practice quickly. We made intentional use of our time to see our friends in small groups, physically distant. No more running, just being present for the pain and love of our local community as we left. We all wrestled with the injustices experienced by people we knew and loved and who our kids went to school with. Leaving was as hard as I imagined it would be. What was originally a move geared toward adventure had become a move of necessity during an extremely challenging time.
When we landed in New Zealand, we were loaded onto a bus and taken to the quarantine hotel. There is a courtyard out front which we can access, masked, as often as we like. It’s 0.10 mile, if you do a complete loop. Once per day, we are escorted (12 at a time) to a larger greenspace, where we can unmask and exercise.
The first few days were tight, painful, slow, heavy days. I wondered if I’d have the motivation to run again. I remembered how disorienting it is to move between hemispheres. I spent the first few days just getting my bearings: North, South, East and West. I watched the weather roll in, and the clouds make patterns. I marveled at the sun’s daily march from right to left (versus left to right) and how the moon is lit up on her right side in the morning instead of in the evening.
We slept, rested our bodies, drank water, and began to move more. Each day, I have covered more and more miles. My joy for running is brand new again, and I can feel how strong I’m getting. Yesterday, I kicked off my shoes and ran 5km barefoot in the greenspace. I won’t pretend that my processing the circumstances of this move is over. I’m far from it, but my thinking is clearer. The fluidity of movement is being restored. The cadence of my running is simple: “I’m (left foot)-here (right foot)-I’m (left foot)-here (right foot)-I’m (left foot)-here (right foot)-I’m (left foot)-here (right foot)”. Even walking in the courtyard, I feel deep gratitude for moving my body and being here. When we are released from isolation, I’ll no doubt need to run many more miles to get grounded into our new life here. I’ll find new running buddies to share the miles and real talk. I’ll do more grieving in the quiet moments amongst the dirt and the trees. I’ll find joy in discovering new trails. After all, Grief and Joy are both Love.
Feature Photo Courtesy: Roe.Kiwi