There’s a pivotal scene in The Lord of the Rings when, with mankind facing its darkest hour during the siege of Helm’s Deep, those trapped within the castle’s walls look to the east and see Gandalf the wizard arriving with reinforcements to save the day.
It was hardly Tolkien-esque, in that we didn’t have orcs and other beasts clawing at our door, but we did have a fairly dark hour this week, and we did have a saviour from the east to lift our spirits and help us to go on.
Emigration is hard to do, no question. In the months and weeks before departure, the excitement of the adventure coupled with a never-ending task list, both conspired to mask the scale of the upheaval we were facing. But once you arrive at your destination, the reality of being disconnected from your previous life makes itself apparent.
We hit a low point the morning after our arrival in Canberra. After the thrill of arriving in our new city and the practicalities of getting the keys to our house and filling the fridge with food, a few things began to claw at us, too.
Without furniture, any house seems soulless, particularly one that hasn’t been lived in for a few months, as was the case for us. Plus, we couldn’t seem to get the heating to work, no matter what we tried. And so, as overnight temperatures plummeted to around 5-degrees Celsius, we all lay in sleeping bags in an empty house, shivering, exhausted, jet-lagged and emotional, and wondering what we had done.
My wife looked at me, and I at her, and although neither of us said anything, we were both thinking the same thing: we wanted our old house back. The one both our children had grown up in; the one with pen on the wall where our youngest decided to write his name; the one with central heating that either boiled or froze you; the one with outdoor lights that only worked if you danced in front of the movement sensor in the carport. We wanted to go home.
Except this is our home now. And the reason neither of us said anything was because we knew there’d be days like this, and because we believe that, as dark as they may get, the day after will be easier, and the day after that will be easier again, and so on.
Our ‘look to the east’ moment came via a phone call from friends who live near Melbourne. Their parents were setting off from Bateman’s Bay, a few hours east of Canberra, with a car packed full of heaters, saucepans, bedding, fold-up chairs, a kettle, a toaster, cutlery, crockery, and so on. They’d arrive by 11am: “Just look to the east.”
And arrive they did. By then, we’d got the heating worked out, but everything they’d brought with them was almost as welcome as the sentiment behind it. Our friends themselves will be arriving with more stuff later this week – actual beds, a TV, a table, and untold other pleasures.
The point of the scene in The Lord of the Rings is not to resolve the challenge to mankind – that happens much later. Its purpose is to signal that mankind does not stand alone. That whatever they must face, they will do it with the support of others. There will be dark moments, yes, but they will prevail.
We’re not about to give up on things, nowhere near. But, if sometimes the barest hint of human kindness can be humbling, imagine how we feel. Our house is being filled with bits and bobs gathered from Ballarat to Byron Bay, but more than that, it’s being filled with friendship and love. Oh, and toast. Thanks to our friends, we can also comfort ourselves with cheese on toast, and as someone descended from Welsh stock, I have to tell you, that’s a truly marvellous thing.