Safe haven: Coming home to N.L. meant I was in the best place to ride out the pandemic
When COVID-19 hit, Allison Stoodley instinctively knew where she needed to be
Like many young Newfoundlanders, I have moved off the island to pursue my career. Experiencing life in another province has been great for me, both personally and professionally.
However, when the World Health Organization declared the pandemic in March 2020, the first thing I wanted to do was hop on a plane back to Newfoundland and Labrador.
A week after lockdowns and remote work began, I posted to social media to see if anyone else living away was considering flying home. It turned out many people had the same idea and were already looking at flights. In typical Newfoundland fashion, I had messages offering me free standby flights and flights at discounted prices.
Reading those messages confirmed my initial thoughts that Newfoundland was where I wanted to be in an uncertain and scary time.
I am mindful of the fact not everyone could easily head back home. While I wish everyone who wanted to be in Newfoundland could have done so, I know jobs and other commitments do not always allow for that.
I work in the energy industry. I am grateful for my employer, who agreed home was the best place for me. For my own mental health and safety, it made more sense to be in Newfoundland than it did to work from a downtown Toronto condominium building, filled with thousands of residents.
I flew home on March 26, 2020, with one suitcase. A co-worker called me that morning and said, "See you when you return from the Rock in a few months!"
I laughed as if he was joking. I thought I would be back in a few weeks.
It is now April 2021 … and I am still here.
A tingly feeling when going home
If you are a Newfoundlander living off the island, you are likely familiar with the feeling I am about to describe. Whenever I travel home, I can feel the excitement in my stomach. When I am about to board the flight and I hear a Newfoundland accent, I feel like I am en route to where I am supposed to be.
This time was different. I was still excited, but there was an anxiousness of the unknown. The airport felt eerie. There was hardly anybody around and I was not sure how safe I felt about getting on a plane. However, I felt as though I was on my way to a place of safety and comfort. I knew going home was the right decision.
The sense of community I felt during my self-isolation, and every day since, has been incredible. People dropped meals on my doorstep, the neighbours' children were standing outside my window to chat with me, the local RCMP officer asked if I would like a coffee delivered. These acts of kindness made me so thankful to be home.
I spent the first couple of months only interacting with my parents. Before long, restrictions started easing and we were able to start living a relatively normal life. There were no signs of things improving in Ontario by early fall, so I contacted a local moving company to inquire about shipping my belongings home. They told me they had been moving young people from Toronto to Newfoundland every single week. I clearly was not the only person who decided to stick around.
While we have since experienced time in Alert Level 5, the most strict level of lockdown orders, and still continue to have restrictions in place, our lives are much more "normal" than the rest of the country.
I can hug my grandparents, go for dinner with my friends, practise yoga at a studio and spend Friday night listening to a band on George Street. When my colleagues in other provinces and countries ask about my weekend plans, I sometimes hesitate to tell them or show my excitement. I am aware these activities are luxuries that many people do not have right now.
Quality time, and ocean air to boot
Being home for the pandemic has given me more time to spend with my family and friends than I ever thought I would get again. Those of us who have moved home have been able to enjoy quality time with loved ones, ocean air, friendly people, and a slower paced life — all while being much less at risk for getting the virus.
I truly hope I will some day lay roots in Newfoundland; I love this beautiful island. The views, the culture, and the people are something unique.
This summer, I will be off to another new province. I will take with me the gratitude for the comfort this island provided me in a time of uncertainty. I have always been a proud Newfoundlander, but the love and pride I feel for this island after spending the pandemic here has increased immensely.
If you are from N.L. and are living away right now, I hope you can get home soon. If you are one of the lucky ones who get to live here permanently, I hope you never take this province for granted. The place we come from is so welcoming, beautiful and safe. If you are "from away," I hope you will come visit when restrictions allow.
Thank you to all the medical professionals and government officials who have made this province the best place to be during a global pandemic.