Monday, November 21, 2016

'Tis the Season

In a recent trip to New Castle to visit the Apple Store (trackpad problems on E's laptop), we saw that "the season" is finally here and Australian's do indeed celebrate with many of the same rituals as Americans.

It is interesting to be in a place where we and most others are dressed in shorts and a tee for the holiday season but, nevertheless, create all the same winter-themed decorations as the northern hemisphere. This makes it easy sometimes to forget that you are half a world away, sweating in the sun in mid-November.

There remain obvious signs that you are in an exotic place, however. The morning chorus of the birds is nothing like you hear in the eastern US. The forests are filled in eucalypts instead of oaks or poplars. You drive on the left. Dozens of little things everyday are there to remind you than you are in a new place. For example, when was the last time to stopped by to do business with your friendly neighborhood motor wrecker?

And so it goes.

The longer we are here, the more natural and familiar all these cultural differences get; the more it feels like we 'fit in'.

Consciously or subconsciously, we make this transition from where we were to where we are, this 'fitting in', all the time. From grade school to high school. From high school to college and from there to the working world. From single to married life and so on. All these changes, and many more smaller ones each day, mark our willingness to conform to the culture around us to feel normal. We do this without thinking. Pehaps that is the problem.

Recent events have changed this desire to always conform. While our friends at home are immersed in the daily soup that passes for the news in the US, we are in a place where we must actively seek out such sources of 'information'. Even the cable TV here has the channels sorted into news and entertainment categories (among others) making it easy to completely avoid a dose of reality. And, of course, on the web, we must intentionally navigate to a place with reports of what is happening during the presidential transition. We can, almost, isolate ourselves from the reality of the cultural change that is surfacing.

But choosing this isolation comes are a steep price. It cuts us off from home and friends. It insures that the transition back to the US when we return will be traumatic. So we must keep contact with our home even as we become more connected with Australia.

This news we now find makes us sad and scared. We left a country where people were welcome, science and logic respected, and we were on a path toward a modern society. We are returning to a place we may scarcely recognize, where people who hate do so openly without fear of consequences and stupid people are celebrated for their lack of logic and utter disdain of the scientific process and its fruits.

So, our five-month separation from the US has landed us in the season of confusion. We work to suspend our disbelief to feel comfortable in Australia while we struggle to stay focused on who we are to not get lost in the massive cultural shift uncovered in the US.

While we recognize that everyone in the US is feeling this cultural shift no matter who they voted for in the election, it is different for us. We watch the reports on the news transmitted through the eyes of Australians. We talk with friends and neighbors here who have very different life experiences and perspectives than do our friends at home. We have one foot here and one foot at home. This creates an awareness of our newfound 'otherness'.

The transition from a cold Christmas to a hot one and salvage yards to motor wreckers now feels kinda normal. We are struggling to find a way to never feel normal about returning to society under the direction of someone who promotes exclusion rather than inclusion and governs based on wishes and imagination rather than science.

From our current perspective, we sit on this empty bench alone and, in the serinity of the seaside, worry. We'll be coming home in a few months, leaping from the heat of summer to the chill of winter. Maybe we can bring some this sunshine home with us to share with others and help shine a light wherever we can. We owe this our daughter and her coming child.

There is no new 'normal'. There is only a renewed focus on what has always been important and the realization that we cannot be complacent.

Hot or cold, have a safe and happy holiday season.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” 
– Bill Bryson