A sense of permanence

A few days ago, the CBRbound family went to a housewarming party for some friends here in Canberra. The timing of the event was significant in that it both signalled and echoed our own trajectory as new migrants.

Every now and then, you catch yourself saying something and wonder at the significance of it. While this may sound strange – after all, your own thoughts can hardly be a surprise to you – there is something about articulating them that gives them a slightly different form, and allows you to recognise their existence more readily.

I first noticed this phenomenon a few years ago. I was doing a stint as a ‘writer in residence’ at one of the UK’s teaching hospitals, interviewing staff about their work and how they saw things at the hospital. Time and again, when deep in conversation and explaining something they clearly had thought about long and hard, my interviewees would say something, pause, and then add: “I’ve never really thought about it like that before.”

It was as if the thought, once expressed verbally, became new to them; became something external that they could hold in their hands, analyse and gain greater insight to.

Anyway, back to our friends.

Five years ago, as new migrants, they participated in a TV programme, which after months of fruitless house-hunting by the family in an aggressive Canberra housing market, was attempting to help them land their dream home.

As they toured one particular property, they were discussing on camera whether to take the plunge and put an offer in. “But if we buy it,” one said, “We’ve really done it then. We’re really here.” The reply came: “But we’ve already done it. We’re here.”

I recognised the thought immediately because it lent form to something that has been churning in my own head for a few weeks now. I think it’s been triggered by the fast-approaching first anniversary of our arrival in Canberra.

I’ve always thought that, with a two-year rental lease under our belts, our first anniversary should mark the moment when we start thinking about buying in Canberra – especially if we intend to build a new home from scratch.  But, as it did for our friends, something about actually buying a house suggests permanence such that, unexpectedly, it feels like an aftershock of the original seismic decision to migrate to Australia.

It doesn’t really mean permanence anyway, of course. I once bought and sold a house within 11 months in England, so owning a property needn’t be any more permanent than renting, except psychologically.

Our friends in the TV show didn’t buy the house back then. It took them until now to finally find their own little piece of Canberra, and looking at the house they eventually got, it was probably worth the wait.

But that little ‘this is it’ moment of indecision was helpful to observe. It told me that what I currently feel is common, perhaps even inevitable. And the housewarming party illustrated that it can also be transient, and needn’t necessarily indicate doubt or a desire to retreat from the big move. Sometimes doubts can be just that, without needing to be acted on or even articulated. Just like the healthcare workers I interviewed back in England, I hadn’t thought of it like that before.


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