“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

~Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

We had just returned home from our Middle East travels last November when our daughter texted that she needed to talk. Right away. We knew it must be important because 1) she didn’t mind that we were incredibly jet lagged; 2) her husband also wanted to be on the call; and 3) she wanted to FaceTime rather than speak on the phone. Within seconds – and with a clever announcement Emily had made for us – we learned we would become grandparents. July 2020! We were over the moon.

But back here on earth, we had some plans to change. Herb and I were due to board a ship bound for Norway in mid-June, returning precariously close to Emily’s due date. Our 2020 vacation could easily be moved. But missing our grandchild’s birth? That was one risk we couldn’t possibly consider.

January

By the beginning of January, our new plans were taking shape. British Air exchanged our tickets for travel vouchers with a generously long expiration date, requiring us to provide a letter from Emily’s doctor. The hotel I had booked at the end of the voyage in Copenhagen – the “world’s smallest hotel” called Central Hotel & Café – kindly overruled their nonrefundable policy and returned our entire advanced payment when we explained the reason for the cancellation. And on the cruise front, it was smooth sailing as well. We applied the deposit for the Norway voyage to a December itinerary in Southeast Asia, another part of the world where we have never traveled.

February

February found us dealing with another change in plans – this one of the medical kind. Herb learned that the defective heart valve he had been monitoring since it was discovered in his mid-twenties was getting precariously close to the surgical stage. He had been doing research on the procedure for a long time and contacted the specialist who he hoped would perform the surgery.

The week before Valentine’s Day, we traveled to Cleveland to meet with Dr. Lars Svensson, world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon and Chairman of the Heart & Vascular Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “We were thinking that August might be a good time to schedule the surgery,” Herb explained rather confidently, citing Emily’s due date and our travel plans later in the year. Without missing a beat and after reviewing the plethora of tests the Clinic had taken, Dr. Svensson looked at both of us and simply said, “I would do it soon.”

Flying over a snow-covered Midwestern U.S. at sunset, on our way to Cleveland.

March

“Soon” became March 4th, a date that will live forever in that sacred place deep inside ourselves where love and gratitude reside. We arrived in Cleveland on March 1st, and in what seemed like a hundred moments of time-lapse images, we made it through an incredibly challenging time. Two weeks and one successful surgery later, we were heading home to San Diego.

And then came the pandemic. While we had been living in the laser-focused cocoon of Herb’s surgery and recovery, Covid-19 was building up speed, tearing through the world like an undetected hurricane. Like everyone else, we kept close to home, vigilantly trying to figure out how to navigate the murky waters of this “new normal.” Herb was especially vulnerable – the first six weeks after heart surgery are a critical time – and knowing he wouldn’t be fully healed for three months, I transformed myself into his great protector, refusing to let even a pandemic get in the way of this final leg of his recovery journey.

A spectacular sunset over downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie, viewed from the Cleveland Clinic rooftop…
…and a serene sunrise over the Midwest as we headed home to California.

April-May-June

As the weeks went by, we began noticing a trend in the various travel forums we follow. People were asking questions. Lots of questions. Which countries are open to foreign visitors? How are airlines, hotels and cruise lines dealing with the pandemic? What about train travel? When will ships be able to sail?

Suddenly, having rescheduled our travel plans from June to December seemed like a fortuitous decision. Herb, however, was convinced that even far-away December wouldn’t happen. I tend to see the glass as half full – sometimes too full for my own good – and I had a hard time wrapping my head around not being able to travel at the end of the year. But by mid-June, two weeks before our final payment for the Southeast Asia cruise was due, we cancelled our plans. A month later, the cruise line cancelled all remaining 2020 voyages. My magical thinking had evaporated, replaced by the stark reality that we wouldn’t be traveling anywhere for a long time.

Letting go of our plans for another voyage on the Crystal Symphony.

July

Except to San Francisco. Even though Emily’s hospital would not be allowing visitors, we couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for our grandchild’s birth. We came up with a plan to drive from San Diego, arriving just as the new family would be coming home from the hospital. We were nervous to venture out on the road during the pandemic, but we armed ourselves with every precaution we could think of, even researching rest areas that would be open along the route. Seven-and-a-half hours later, we arrived in San Francisco, and the next morning, we held our beautiful new grandson in our arms.

July also brought an unexpected delight for the blog. A post I had written about our visit to Salalah, Oman, had caught the attention of an editor at CNN Arabic. She was interested in writing a story about my experience at the ancient lost city of Sumhuram and the Khor Rorī Archaeological Site and also wanted to include some of my photos from that day. It was a real treat to answer her thoughtful questions and revisit a place from a trip that has been such a touchstone in my travel life – especially at a time when travel was on an indefinite hold. And in the most remarkable way the universe sometimes spins, the story ran on the day I met my grandson.

August Until Now

We’ve left some well-worn tracks on the route from San Diego to San Francisco the past few months. Our precautionary radar is always with us, like a new-found passenger in the back seat, a sign of the times we have come to accept. These road trips have caused me to reevaluate how much I’m willing to compromise when it comes to travel. With family visits, there is almost nothing I wouldn’t do to be there. But what about vacations? What about all those bucket lists and world experiences that dance in our future travel dreams?

The thought of wearing a mask while on an airplane or when touring a city or far-away site seemed unappealing to me at first. But now I’m not so sure. It’s far from ideal compared with the way we used to travel just a short time ago. But what if the only alternative is not to travel? What if the travel regulations in 2020 evolve into a new normal, just as the airlines’ three-ounce carry-on liquid rule and TSA inspections did?

How can we play by these new rules and not lose the magic that caused us to fall in love with the idea of exploring the world in the first place?

2021 And Beyond

January will mark the five-year anniversary of The Modern Postcard. This milestone year has been a rather quiet one, a time of retrospection rather than roving. When I began the blog in 2016, my intention was to put meaningful stories and beautiful pictures out into the world, with the hope that sharing my travel experiences might inspire others as well. But it turns out that I have gained far more than anything I could possibly have imagined.

I’m incredibly grateful to all of you for reading and sharing your thoughts and stories here. Some of you are long-time dear friends. Others are newer in the fold, friends we’ve made while traveling, sharing memories forever etched in time and place. And some of you are friends I’ve never met in person, but through our conversations here, I feel as if we’ve always known each other. Kindred spirits in the world of travel.

Several years ago, I took a photo at California’s Mission San Juan Capistrano that has stayed with me ever since. I turned it into our family’s Christmas card that year – with a little poetic help from the great Leonard Cohen – and I think it resonates even more today, as 2020 folds into 2021.

Happy Holidays to all of you. May 2021 bring an abundance of happiness, health and hope and the chance to keep exploring this wonderful world of ours.

14 Comments

  • What a beautiful collection of your thoughts….and photos. May 2021 find all of us traveling and exploring more. :o)

    Ann

    • Thanks so much, Ann! I truly believe that when travel opens up again, we will look at every tiny piece of our experiences – even the inconveniences and mishaps – with renewed appreciation and joy. Happy 2021 to you and your family 🙂

  • Thank you for your beautifully written commentary on 2020. I wish you the best in 2021 and look forward to learning about your post pandemic travels. I am optimistic about we will all be back on the road next year when it is safe.
    An unmet friend and fellow traveler.

    • I love that, Joan – an unmet friend and fellow traveler. Many thanks! I’m optimistic about 2021 as well, although a bit cautious and curious about what our travels will look like in the post pandemic world.
      Wishing you all the best in 2021 and many future happy travels!

  • It’s been quite the year and I appreciate your 2020 journey. We must never forget the cracks where the light gets in….XO

  • That beautiful poem really says it all, doesn’t it? I really enjoy your thoughtful comments and insight here, Deb, and look forward to many more exchanges in 2021. Happiest of holidays to all!

  • Love your 2020 reflections. Cohen’s Anthem lyrics capture well our charge for 2021. Beautiful. Who knows the impact of this past year on our individual and collective psyches. Ha …. that in itself is a journey worth exploring, hopefully done in tandem with live travel and all its sensory splendor.
    -Worls

  • Travel’s “sensory splendor.” That really gets at the heart of what keeps us traveling, or in the case of 2020, our yearning to travel. Lovely, lovely thoughts, Worls…thanks for sharing, and Happy Holidays!

  • Mary, what a year! I was thinking the other day that we’d enjoyed your Egyptian adventure vicariously whilst looking forward to our own…which never happened. Yes, the circumstances have given us cause to revaluate so many aspects of our lives, not least, the value of patience! I too am a glass half full person and as I learn that my 95 yo m-i-l will receive her vaccination on Sunday, I am already rolling up my sleeve in optimism that my turn won’t be too long coming. I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel and that we might soon begin to dream again. Until then, I’m thankful that we can still go on adventures thanks to such lovely blogs!
    Wishing you and your family a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful 2021 x

    • Gill, I love your metaphor of rolling up your sleeve in optimism and can’t think of a better way to end this challenging year than with the hope of allowing ourselves to dream again. Thanks so much as always for your kind words and wonderful insight. Happy Christmas and 2021 to you and your family as well! I hope someday soon to be reading about your own Egyptian adventures 🙂

  • Mary,
    Thanks for the update. We lost track after Herb’s surgery. Congratulations on becoming grandparents! We are well. Our son Mitchell began his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore this fall, “distance learning” from our home in NorCal. He’s majoring in biomedical engineering. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that he can go to the campus for the next semester, which begins in mid-January. JHU has great COVID-19 precautions in place for the students. It publishes the COVID “dashboard” that is getting national media attention. Our life in the Sierra foothills and Lake Tahoe (vacation home) is blissful. We cut back on world travel because of COVID; still holding tickets for a trip to Singapore that has been repeatedly postponed. Here’s to 2021! — Jeff, Shannon and Mitchell

    • Thank you, Jeff! It has been easy to lose track of time these past months. I’m glad to hear your family is doing well – congrats to Mitchell on Johns Hopkins! – and is staying safe. “Blissful” is a pretty great word to describe life in 2020 🙂 Best wishes to you all in 2021 and hoping that a year from now you’ll be sharing stories about a fabulous time in Singapore!

  • As always, your words carry me thru another adventure!!! This time, however, I can only think of two things…(1) that Herb was able to access the very best surgeons, that you made the decision EARLY in the year and were not hamstrung by later flight restrictions AND, most importantly, he flew thru the surgery with no major problems! AND (2) that your grandson was born happy and healthy and not TOOOO far away. Seems like another year of masking and revolving lock downs are ahead of us, still grateful for so many things. Stay so very safe!!! And happy new year from Gainesville!

    • That’s so kind of you, Sharon. Thank you! We are truly grateful for the joyful outcomes of those two defining moments, especially with the pandemic swirling all around us. Herb and I often look back in wonder at how we managed to make it through his surgery in such a brief window of time, without even knowing that such a window existed! And having a new baby in the family is just a treasure. Stay safe as well and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2021!

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