As I mentioned in an earlier blog, our five-day pilgrimage in France concluded in Conques. The centerpiece of this beautiful village is the eighth century (rebuilt in the eleventh century) Saint-Foye Abbey Church. Dominican monks who oversee the church and its Medieval treasures sing during evening prayers in the church, and pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago are invited to listen in. My hiking companions and I ate an early dinner so we could attend the monks’ prayers, but mid-meal I physically crashed and instead headed back to my room. A night of very sound sleep did nothing to relieve my fatigue and, using a home testing kit I’d brought from the United States, I tested positive for COVID.

Of course, I was disappointed – but not surprised. I thought Americans were lax about masks and social distancing, but compared to the French, we are compulsive. In airports, restaurants, and markets, barely anyone in France wears masks, and while I was careful early in my trip, I too eased up as my vacation progressed. After not eating indoors at a restaurant for nearly two years, I was doing so almost nightly. I probably picked up the virus during dinner one night, but it could have been anywhere. 

The day after I tested positive, Manyu, Manyu’s sister Shauyu, Shauyu’s husband Claude, and I holed up in an airb&b. Even though I stayed in a separate room from everyone else, both Manyu and Claude tested positive five days after I did. Shauyu, who at first seemed immune, tested positive five days after them. Manyu and I could not board a plane to the United States until we both tested negative (or had an authorization to travel from our doctor), so we had to postpone our trip home by almost two weeks. 

I was not happy about the delay and was unnecessarily cranky at times, but I also realized I had nothing to complain about compared to Claude and Shauyu. Their home is in Shanghai. Spring 2021 Claude’s sister told Claude she needed a break from caring for their elderly parents. The parents live on their own, but need to be checked on at least once a day. Claude returned to his hometown of Hégenheim in Alsace for a few weeks, but stepped awkwardly on a front stoop and broke his leg. With Claude wearing a cast for three months, Shauyu came from Shanghai to help care for her husband and her husband’s parents. While both my sister-in-law and her husband were in France, the Chinese government shut down the city of Shanghai, and Claude and Shauyu haven’t been home for over a year. 

While sequestered in France, I emailed my fishing buddies to tell them I might not make it back for our annual Canadian fishing trip. I also informed our daughter Clare, my card playing friends, and the neighbors who were keeping an eye on our house. One of the fishermen, Clare’s boyfriend, and the husband and wife watching our house were all positive, too. For two years, COVID only happened to people in my most outer circle of acquaintances. Now it has come home. I am beginning to think contracting the disease is inevitable. 

Steven Simpson