Reality bites

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.

11 thoughts on “Reality bites

  1. Congrats on your safe arrival! Don’t forget to get out and explore. Canberra is beautiful this time of year but very subject to temperature variations. Hayfever can also be a problem for those affected. But this is still the best time of year to get out and see some of the parks and features of the city, before it gets so hot you want to live in the air con all day 🙂

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    • Thank you! We went to the tourist information office on Northbourne Ave yesterday and have put together a list of ‘must dos’ ranging from the zoo (did that today) to the Asian Cup soccer tournament and joining the library (did that yesterday). I’m really inspired by the quality of the arts scene here. There’s an ‘Emerging Writers’ Festival‘ in town today and tomorrow and an ACT Writers’ Centre that I plan to join too, and that’s just the start. Oh, and I’m hearing mutters about touring the vineyards from across the room 🙂

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  2. Jerry Edward says:

    Congratulation on your arrival Mark. Hope you enjoying the weather there.
    you have a very exciting journey so far and been following your blog.. thanks for some of the advice as well via email. very much appreciated.
    i agree this would be difficult moment to settle down on new ground, new home but yet it is full of fun and exciting experience. we had similar experience as well when we first moved here in Brisbane, during warm winter luckily..sleep in empty house for almost 3weeks waiting for shipments.. keep writing Mark. 🙂

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    • Thanks Jerry. Feel free to write again if I can help more. Fun and exciting, yes, but also exhausting and stressful. We took a step back to day and had a family day out at the zoo and suddenly things seemed right again with the world. We need to remember why we came here and a cold night in a sleeping bag doesn’t change that. Mind you, the hot days/cold nights of the Canberran spring tak some getting used to — I’m cold; no, I’m hot; no, I’m cold again. Good job we packed clothes for every weather, I think we’ll need them all.

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  3. hilary says:

    Mnany thoughts coming your way, don’t be down hearted, I know just how you feel.In 1979 I arrived in Sydney after 22 hour flight, with 7 and 4 year old and no flight on to Canberra. Once jet lagged children asleep in Randwick motel, I howled for an hour sobbing” What on earth have I done?”
    We all got to Canberra next morning, blossom trees in flower along side of Lake on way from airport, city with green space everywhere and we knew it would be fine. Canberra wonderful to bring up kids and eventually grandkids – we’ve proved it and so will you.
    Please email if I can help in any way, live not far away.

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    • Thanks Hilary. You know, when I started this blog, I promised I’d cover the highlights and the low points, so I’m trying to keep to the deal. That first night was hard, but I suspect it might have been the hardest, and now it’s behind us. The wonderful thing is, that post elicited such kindness and generosity, like yours — messages of encouragement, words of support, offers of help and furniture. We’ve just had a wonderful day down at Bateman’s Bay — collecting two spare beds from friends, eating fish and chips on the beach, and wartching the kids throw anglers’ cast-off fish heads to a feeding frenzy of rays. Every day since day 1 has been better, and we’re really glad to be here. I think we were just exhausted, jet-lagged and emotional that first night. Your story, and others like it, are what inspired us to come here. Thanks for your kind words of encouragement, they mean a lot, especially since you know exactly what we went through. We’re still looking forwards though, which is the only thing to do, eh? Best wishes, Mark

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  4. Is that where my cheese-on-toast love came from? My Welsh forebears? Anyhow, you sound like mature travellers. But still, knowing things will get better doesn’t actually take away the sad feelings does it – just helps you cope with them better.

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    • There’s a reason why it’s called Welsh rarebit in some parts of the world 😉 We’re on the up. I think, knowing the first day would be the hardest actually helps. It means whatever comes next, it’ll be easier than that first day. We’re all about looking forwards now 🙂

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  5. Caroline Cole says:

    Wishing I was closer and could help you guys settle in – Melbourne is a tad too far to offer any practical help. Mind you my cousin and his family live in Canberra as does a University friend of mine so I have some contacts who may come in handy for you and the family so I will be in touch about that offline. Having moved to the UK twice, I have a lot of empathy for you with the settling in phase – but I did it before I had children, which is a whole different story. Now I can only imagine the huge weight of expectation that you are carrying on your shoulders for your wife and children. Hoping you will make a trip to Melbourne soon, so we can show you some good old Aussie / American hospitality!! Look forward to a telephone chat soon. Cheers, Caroline

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    • Aah, bless you Caroline, thanks. When we make our first trip south-west I’ll drop you a line to see if you are around. It would be lovely to see you again and both wonderful and bizarre to see our kids play together. Look forward to catching up soon. Best wishes, Mark

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