By Nora Savosnick
OSLO, Norway (Reuters) – When President Trump announced the ban on travel from Europe last month, I was more than 3,000 miles away from my Norwegian childhood home, a 24-year-old photographer creating a life of my own in New York City.
I had to start thinking about whether I would risk my U.S. work visa – and my newfound freedom – to go home for nationalized health care and, most of all, to see my family. My mum recovered from cancer a few years ago: What if I couldn’t see her if she became sick again?
That evening I went on a first date to a trendy and still-crowded New York City restaurant. We said goodbye with a wave after applying hand sanitizer. As I eagerly awaited the after-text to see if he was into me, he sent me a message to go home to Norway while I still had the chance.
The next morning my parents called. “I want you to be here in case you should be sick,” said my mum, Chava Savosnick. “It’s kind of scary to have my daughter on the other side of the world in these times.”
In a panic, I bought a ticket back to Norway. I braced myself for a return to childhood, quarantined in my parents’ basement.
The basement looks the same as it did when I was 16, drinking my first few sips of hard cider with my friend Elena. The same books, the same movies, the same sofa bed. It felt comforting and a little claustrophobic at the same time.
So far, my mum hasn’t caught me drinking – or even snagging a scoop of forbidden ice cream. My childhood had very few sugary treats. As an adult rebelling against those childhood restrictions, I’d buy at least three Ben and Jerry’s pints a week.
Now, because I had to be in quarantine for two weeks after my arrival from America, my parents were in total control of my diet. I was rationed on the number of days I can fry my breakfast or have even a single egg. My mum is worried about my cholesterol and potential for high blood pressure.
I’ve learned that my 60-something parents are healthier than me. My mum walks as fast as a New Yorker, uses weights, and exercises every day. My dad, Mats Haraldsson, rides his bike for hours as a warm-up to his fitness regimen. He’s an amateur lumberjack who still chops his own wood for the fireplace. It’s how he heats our home. I probably will never live up to their fitness lifestyle, but I should take more yoga classes.
This time of enforced togetherness has been a time of discoveries – of differences, but also of finding common ground that we might have forgotten about, or never even known before.
In my bedroom there’s a giant photograph of a tree that my father took when he was young. When I was a child, it had hung in the room where I slept when we visited my grandmother, so I’ve known it my whole life. When I went to art school, my father gave me the camera he used to take the photo.
I never pieced it together before living in quarantine, but my dad helped inspire my love of photography. He thought about being a professional photographer, but he was worried about if he could make a living at it. He’s very security-minded.
“I didn’t think I had the skills to take it to a professional level, but it was something I enjoyed for a few years,” he says.
Now, during the quarantine, I’ve inspired him to pick up his camera again.
As my mum says: “How you look at the quarantine is your choice. You can look at the quarantine as a problem, or you can look at the quarantine as something that gives you two weeks to be with yourself, to think about things, and to develop things which you have no time for otherwise.”
One night during my quarantine, we sat down and interviewed each other about what this time has meant to us, and to the world at large. We’d never done anything like that before, and it was fun and sometimes moving.
My mother said it was hard to keep her distance from me when I arrived home.
“When you came from New York, you know, the natural thing for me is to go forward to you and kiss you and hug you, you know, my little girl,” she said. But even though we couldn’t touch, “it’s nice to, you know, have this feeling of having you close to me.”
My dad said he was glad I was home. “We have to gather in these days,” he said.
We talked about what we were most worried about. For me, it’s my mum. She’s in a higher-risk category, and she’s been coughing. I’m afraid that without showing any symptoms, I’ve brought the disease with me from New York.
My mum fears getting ill, but she also worries about her country and the world as a whole.
“I’m a bit worried about how this is going to develop. Yes, not only because I’m in the risk group, but for the whole society. What’s going to happen?” she said. “What kind of a Norway will this be when the virus is over or if it will be over?
“I am scared that it should get up the worst in people. And I hope it will take up the best in people.”
We looked for the blessings in this time we never wanted or expected.
“There have been many plagues in the history of humanity, and we have always continued in one way or another,” my dad said. “Maybe it will put us back to enjoy today because we don’t know so much about tomorrow.”
My mum, who knows something about not taking life for granted, said: “You have to live every day. And maybe don’t think so much about the future. The future will come, but what the future will be, we don’t know. But it will come. So it is to live every day as good as possible and enjoy every day.”
This disease has shown us how interconnected we all are, in scary ways, but possibly also good ones. We’ve seen how one place in the world might affect the rest of us.
“So it’s in everybody’s interest that things are going fine all over the place, because it might affect us,” my mum mused. “So maybe we will be more responsible and more conscious about how we act towards other places in the world.”
For me, I think we’re facing a huge change. We’ve been treating this planet terribly for a long time, and I think we might come out of this as better people but also with a better planet.
But on a more personal level, even though I’ve sometimes felt restless and confined in my old home, this quarantine has given me a precious time with my parents.
I’m the journalist, but they interviewed me that night too. This is what I said.
“The best part is that I’m getting a lot closer to you guys, and I don’t think I would ever get this close if it hadn’t been for me literally being locked down in this house. … And I think a lot of people will come out of this knowing the people they lived in the house with better. And I’m very grateful for that.”
(Reporting by Nora Savosnick; editing by Kari Howard)