I'm – finally – home in time for Christmas!

After seven months, four countries and a lot of tears

When David Harrison felt the plane hit the tarmac at Sydney airport on November 1 – the first day NSW borders reopened to international flights – he was overcome with emotion.

“When we landed, everyone cheered and clapped,” he tells Eternity. “Everyone was just incredibly relieved, and everybody had a story to tell [about getting to Australia].”

David’s story is a long one. It had taken him seven months and a journey across four countries to finally get back to his home in Sydney.

When he flew to Luxembourg in April this year, he didn’t realise that he wouldn’t see his family for the next seven months.

David was a frequent flyer. In fact, his job required him to travel for three weeks out of four. But this had never stopped him from regularly returning home to spend time with his wife Jody before jetting off again. That is, until COVID hit.

“I’m sitting there thinking this is never gonna happen. I’m never going to see Jody.” – David Harrison

Prior to COVID, David and Jody had spent three years living in Luxembourg – a small European country, bordered by Belgium, France and Germany – where David was working for a Vodaphone procurement company.

The arrival of COVID in 2020 coincided with the need for Jody to return home to Australia for family reasons. After cancelling and changing six flights, Jody finally managed to make her way back to Sydney in July 2020. David was hoping to join her soon afterwards.

But – as many others also discovered – it was no longer as easy as simply jumping on a plane. David and Jody’s return to Australia was particularly complicated as they are not Australian citizens or permanent residents. While they were born in New Zealand, the couple had lived in Sydney for years, so they describe themselves as “Kwassuies”.

David did manage to get back to Sydney for Christmas 2020, which he enjoyed with Jody and one of their daughters, Summer, as well as their new puppy Remy, while their other daughter Brie remained in New Zealand, where she now lives.

In April, David took what he thought would be a short trip back to Luxembourg to tie up a few loose ends with the company he worked for and to pack up their apartment, and arrange for their possessions to be shipped back to Australia. When after a short time, he was ready to return to Sydney, he found he couldn’t because Australia had shut its borders due to COVID.

David and Jody Harrison in Europe

David and Jody Harrison in Turkey

Fortunately, one avenue did open up – the trans-Tasman travel bubble, which allowed travel between New Zealand and Australia. But first, of course, David would have to get to New Zealand and quarantine there for two weeks before going on to Sydney. In order to do that, David had to find an available slot to book in for quarantine in Auckland.

“I was on the phone to Jody, booking the quarantine and literally in front of my eyes, every available space disappeared. The bookings went up until the end of November.”

By this time, it was already July. “I’m sitting there thinking this is never gonna happen. I’m never going to see Jody,” David shares.

He couldn’t sleep that night, so he logged back on to the quarantine booking system and, miraculously, a spot had become available in August.

“But then I rang up a mate who is a travel agent and he said, ‘David, there’s a reason why someone’s handed over their quarantine spot. There’s only three flights running to New Zealand. One that comes from Fiji, so you can’t get that. Another one that comes out of China, so you can’t get that. And the last one is out of Tokyo, Japan. So we’ve got to figure out how to get you from Luxembourg to Tokyo, Japan, and keep you inside the Customs area so you can catch the flight from Japan to Auckland.’

“So I started travelling two days before I actually arrived at the destination in Auckland,” says David. From Auckland airport, he was bussed to the quarantine centre.

“I got shown to my room that I was to be inside for the next 14 days. You got food dropped off three times a day and we were allowed out for half an hour of exercise every two days.

“The outlook of the room was a brick wall, ten cigarette butts and some seagulls. So it was a bit grim,” says David, drolly.

But, jokes aside, it was at this point that David’s already struggling mental health took a dive.

“So I was locked down there for 14 days. And during that time, Auckland also went in lockdown and the border closed off between Australia and New Zealand. So I’m sitting there in quarantine, not knowing what I was going to do.”

At a crossroads

“It was a real mental and spiritual journey trying to remain positive,” David reflects.

“I’ve been incredibly blessed all my life. And I think a lot of times I take it for granted. But over the last seven months, you suddenly realise not to take it for granted. When I was sitting in Luxembourg, as I was headed down the pity party route, I always had to remind myself that there were people worse off. None of [my family] had got COVID. We were safe. All our physical needs were okay.

“But I must admit that when I got to New Zealand, it was like the last straw when it all turned to custard. I thought to myself, how am I going to handle 14 days in jail, basically?”

David says he turned to a Bible devotional to help him through this time.

“Each day I got into a routine where I’d write out the [Bible] verse and put it on the mirror. The first verse on the first day was Jeremiah 6:16: ‘Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.’

“… And so for that period of time, I kept thinking about the concept of crossroads – making good choices. When it comes to making decisions, I’m the kind of person who works from their own strengths and sometimes I forget about asking God. So [I kept thinking about] this concept of just pausing at the crossroad and asking God for understanding about what to do.”

“If I learned something from this time, it was not to lose hope.” – David Harrison

David’s biblical reflections paid off when he left quarantine and took his New Zealand-based daughter’s advice to fly to Christchurch because Auckland was still in lockdown. Over the next couple of months, as he stayed with friends and family in New Zealand, David admits he found it hard to hold on to hope that he would be home in time for Christmas.

“I did start to lose hope because it had been going on for so long and I just didn’t know when I was going to get home to see Jody, as there were no flights to Australia.

“But if I learned something from this time, it was not to lose hope and to gravitate to things that are positive, that are going to help lift you up rather than pulling you down.

“At that time there was a lot of negative press about all the things that were going wrong [due to COVID]. So I just cut myself off from that, knowing it was not going to do me any good. I wouldn’t watch the news. I wouldn’t watch the daily COVID updates because it was so depressing. Instead, I  would just focus on the day and trying to get the maximum out of the day, and just keep going.”

In October, when it was announced that NSW borders were opening to international flights, David was fortunate enough to get a flight home to Sydney. He describes this moment as “like getting the golden ticket” in the kids’ book Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

But a few more challenges lay ahead. David made his way to Christchurch and delivered a negative COVID test, and was then planning to fly to Auckland to connect to his flight home. But just two days before his flight to Australia was due to leave, Christchurch had a COVID outbreak.

“I was freaking out, thinking Christchurch was going to lockdown, but, thankfully, it didn’t,” he recalls.

“So it was just a constant drama. On the day I was flying [to Sydney], I didn’t even know whether it was going to happen. People were asking me, ‘Are you excited?’ I’m going, ‘I’m just trying to live one day at a time. I’ll believe that it’s really going to happen when the plane lifts off.'”

When the plane did finally lift off the ground in Auckland, David says he burst into tears. He was met at Sydney airport by Jody and his daughter Summer, who waited outside to welcome him with their now one-year-old dog Remy.

“Waiting for my bags felt like an eternity,” says David. “And then I saw Jody and I just left my bags and ran to her. I just didn’t want to let her go.  And then Summer was outside with a new dog. It was fantastic to see them. We were wearing masks, but underneath I was beaming from ear to ear!”

The whole Harrison family

The whole Harrison family in Rome

Home, sweet home

After that incredibly emotional reunion, David is now settling into a routine at home on Sydney’s north shore. He has a new job that will require some travel to Asia, but he says he’ll keep the trips brief and ensure he doesn’t get stuck overseas.

As for Jody – who only spent three months out of the past 15 months in the company of her husband, with no idea when he would return home – she says, “Now I can breathe again.”

“I have never cried so much in my entire life,” Jody admits. “I would often think about that verse in the Bible where it says God bottles your tears, and I thought we’re going to need the biggest bottles ever!”

Jody says that she got through this “really unsettling time” because of the support of “amazing friends around the world who prayed big prayers”.

David and Jody enjoyed going to church together last Sunday for the first time in months.

“We looked at each other and thought, we’ve made it. We got through it,” says Jody.

Now the couple are really looking forward to celebrating Christmas with family and friends.

“We bought some really nice Christmas crockery in Luxembourg,” says David, “so we’ll either have a big lunch or a big dinner with all the traditional food – ham, turkey, etc – hopefully with friends and nephews and nieces. The only hard thing is that [our daughter] Brie won’t be able to come across from New Zealand, as it’s really hard for her to get back home at the moment. So that’s a downer, but still, I’m really looking forward to Christmas in Sydney.”