The hardest part is not knowing.
Ask any parent dealing with a newborn baby and they'll tell you that. I've been through it – twice now. You go to bed at night and you just don't know what's going to happen. Will the baby sleep tonight, or not? Will he wake up 10 times, or maybe just two? Will he go back to sleep each time or will he need someone to hold him and rock him for hours on end?
It's torture when you don't know. You can't mentally prepare for the night ahead, particularly when you're already fatigued, when you're already at breaking point. You just lie there awake willing yourself to rest, dreading whatever the darkness will throw at you, convinced you can hear sounds that mean it's about to begin.
If you knew, though – if someone said, "OK, you'll be up with him for an hour at 2am but then he'll be fine" – you could deal with that. No worries. You could prepare. But not knowing… It punishes you in a way that's difficult to describe.
It's not hard to describe, though, for those who are waiting to travel right now, or waiting for loved ones to arrive. It's not the waiting that breaks you. It's the not knowing.
And right now, 18 months into the pandemic, there is still so much we don't know, still so much our state and federal leaders won't answer. When? This question perches at the forefront of your consciousness and slowly drives you mad.
How long until we're allowed to leave Australia without having to bow and scrape to Border Force? How long until the incoming arrival cap is lifted and relatives and friends and loved ones will be allowed back into the country? How long before home quarantine is trialled? How long until enough of us are vaccinated to open properly? How long until I'm vaccinated? How long until we go back to normal and this absolute nightmare is behind us?
In some of those cases, no one knows. They can't know. This pandemic is cruelly unpredictable, with just the smallest turn of the wheel of fate changing everything forever.
How long until we go back to normal? Who could ever say? Maybe we never will.
But what about the questions that do have answers, or at least have estimates, those that no one is willing to share in case they don't come true and an angry populace turns on them, or perhaps worse, that the honest answers are just so disappointing that the same thing would occur?
When will we be allowed to leave Australia in the same way we always used to, just swanning through the gates without needing a special exemption? Someone must have an idea of that. There must be a plan. But no one will admit to it, or provide a timeline, or even the parameters for it to take place.
So we sit and we wait. Long-distance relationships fizzle out. Parents age. Kids grow up. The world keeps turning and we wait.
How long until the incoming arrival cap is lifted and relatives and friends and loved ones can be reunited? Not until at least the end of the year, the government says. That's something, at least. Some timeframe you can build your mental strength around. But it's still flimsy. It still doesn't really mean anything.
How long before home quarantine is trialled? Here's the thing: this plan has been announced, in the classic style of the federal government's recent announcements. Here is a good thing and a sensible thing that is going to happen.
The only missing information is: when. When will these South Australian trials start? How long will they go for? When will they be available in other states if they're a success? What are the parameters that will define success?
No one is saying anything because really, at this stage it's just an idea to make a plan. It's a commitment to have a good think about it. Don't hold your breath.
How long until enough of us are vaccinated? How long until I'm vaccinated? These are key questions with absolutely no answers. No one will commit. No one will even hedge.
What even is enough of us? Maybe it's 80 per cent vaccinated, as some have floated. Or perhaps the tipping point is "everyone has now been offered a vaccine", as others say. That doesn't bring us any closer to knowing when that time will come, however, because everyone is so tight-lipped about the vaccine roll-out. If you don't set goals, you can't be accused of failing to meet them.
And so we just bumble along in the dark, waiting, wondering, like new parents braced for the screams. Australians stranded overseas have no idea when they'll be home. Those based here have no clue when they'll be reunited with the people they love. No one has any inkling of when they'll just be able to book an overseas holiday and leave. It's breaking people.
Because we don't have any answers, and the hardest part is not knowing.
Are you waiting to travel, or to be reunited with people overseas? What has been the hardest part for you? Would you rather have estimates that might not be met, or just not know?