I’m thinking about a time in the future, when my family will be sitting around the table, enjoying coffee after a holiday dinner. We’ll look back on the events of 2020. One recollection will lead to another. There will be the usual round of correction, clarification and disagreement as there is in other families. This is what I will remember.
We were all sheltering-in-place, avoiding strangers, sourcing toilet paper, liberally applying hand sanitizer, watching the daily death toll on the news and frantically awaiting availability of a vaccine. One family member was (and still is) living on an island in the Pacific.
This small island nation boldly shut down its airfield and closed its borders early. As it turns out, my brother caught one of the last flights in. For an island whose economy largely depends on a robust tourist industry to thrive, this was a tough but ultimately very wise decision, eventually allowing its citizens to return under a mandatory quarantine period. To date, there has been no transmission of COVID-19 cases and they now have an active vaccination program.
He has been there fifteen months. Video visits confirm what I’ve been imagining—paradise—pristine beaches, coconut palms, clear water that is bluer than blue with abundant marine life and a tropical climate. He works for an intergovernmental organization, overseeing and inspecting construction work on medical facilities, often commuting by boat to neighboring islands. More than once, he has fished from the back of the boat and caught a tuna on his way home at the end of the day. That’s a far cry from the gridlock of his former commute on highway 101 north of San Francisco.
An idyllic life? Maybe. It looks that way from where I sit, particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic. No doubt many of us would be envious.
His view may be different. For example, the knowledge and experience he brings to his work assignment is based on U.S. building codes and standards. His expectations may need to be raised or lowered depending on construction practices in that part of the world. How well has he adapted to the laid-back rhythm of island life and culture? Is he feigning island fever? Prohibited from air travel due to COVID-19, he may feel caught between two worlds, stuck on an island roughly two-and-a-half times the size of Washington, D.C. At the moment, he seems focused on opportunities missed. What will he see years from now when he looks in the rearview mirror?