When I moved to Scotland—a year ago on the day I write this—the decision felt reckless. I was abandoning stability and security for the unknown with no plan and no prospects for life on this side of the Atlantic. It was a tame sort of recklessness, the kind that has more consequences in idea than in action.
From the window of my living room, I can just glimpse the blunt cornice of a dilapidated weaving factory, tagged “RECKLESS” in bold lettering. The building sits at the edge of a derelict complex so prone to fires that the site is monitored 24 hours a day. The creator of that tag was reckless in the more traditional sense.
Recklessness has shifted over the past year. It has become mundane: choosing not to wear a mask, dining indoors, and hosting a party are legitimately reckless behaviors, ones that endanger ourselves and every person with whom we come into contact. Such recklessness is both more boring and more broadly life-threatening than spraying graffiti above three stories of broken windows.
I came to Scotland because the original recklessness appealed to me. I wanted, for the first time in my life, to exist without a plan. Moving gave me the opportunity to live freely, unfettered by a mental map of the future, a chance I had never before seized and feared would never be offered to me again.
The virus existed when I moved, but only barely. On the day I flew out of Toronto, Canada had only five cases; the UK confirmed its third case the day after I arrived. Scotland’s first case was reported almost a month later.
I had a month and a half to be reckless. I made friends, went bar-hopping, danced in a cèilidh, walked up and around hills, visited castles, got lost in the woods, observed the angles and awe of ancient stone circles. I prepared to settle into a life: I bought books, toured flats, sampled my first tastes of local delicacies.
Now, I have spent ten and a half months being safe. My life is fully settled, so bland that I cannot give it description. The extent of my recklessness has been some walks along country roads, a disturbed herd of cows, and an expedition through sheep fields on the side of my city’s only substantial hill. Any time I’ve considered more adventure—a city bus tour into the Cairngorms, a venture up a distant hill with my cousins, a train ride to meet a friend in Dundee—a new restriction, necessitated by the precarity of our present reality, has crushed my ambitions.
My limited time for recklessness has been stolen by governments so invested in preserving ideals of capitalism and productivity that the earnest protection of human lives was forgotten in the endeavor. The plight of airline CEOs’ pocketbooks was privileged above the health of service workers. A strategy that fumbled the signs and the science at every step has birthed an eternal lockdown, a more transmissible variant, and the world’s highest COVID-19 death rate.
I do not often give in to the futile rage of this injustice, but the absurdity can be too much to bear. I am resigned to spending my entire allotment of time for recklessness trapped within the confines of a single city, only escaping for occasional sojourns deeper into the country between new restriction phases made necessary by growing case counts, evidence of the government’s failure to care for our long-term flourishing.
Comparisons with New Zealand and Taiwan do not work for all countries, but here, on another island, I find the discrepancy infuriating. We could have had meaningful border controls; we could have used the first lockdown to develop an efficient test and trace system alongside other long-term strategies; we could have saved a hundred thousand lives. I look to my family in North America and see the same: thousands of deaths each day at the feet of incompetent, indecisive governments that refuse to take hard actions for today that will benefit us all for tomorrow.
I continue to pass these endless winter months confined to little more than grocery runs and solitary walks. My opportunity to live freely—to experience anticipation and regret, to explore my fatherland, to make tea for two in my cozy, picturesque flat—has vanished because these governments have been reckless with our lives.