Posts Tagged ‘Coffs Harbour’

It’s about 7 am on Sunday morning, Feb. 13, and Bear – my Belgian Shepherd – and I are quietly ensconced in the den.  Bear is dozing, glad to be home after his hip replacement surgery two days ago, and I suspect equally glad for the morning’s dose of pain medication that he got just a little while ago.

I am reflecting on the events of the past five weeks or so.  On January 6th I flew to Australia to visit an old  friend from high school days, now retired in Coffs Harbour – about a seven-hour drive north of Sydney on the same coast, or a one-hour plane hop.  Sue and her partner, Trish, are both retired high school principals, and I knew they’d have no problems with the fact that I had to do some online teaching while I was there.

Dorrigo Rain Forest, New South Wales

At the edge of the Dorrigo Rain Forest, New South Wales

For most of the first week, it rained.  The weather was part of the same storm system that was then inundating the state of Queensland, a good ways to the north of us.  Each night we watched the heartbreaking scenes on the evening news.  People lost their homes, their livelihoods, and in some cases, beloved family members or friends.

And yet, night after night, when reporters interviewed these people, there was not a word of complaint.  The general attitude was, “We’ll have to just pick up and go on.  We’ll get through this, somehow.”

No one whined; it turns out that the Australians hate whiners.  That lack of complaint and the displays of Australian toughness and resilience were impressive enough just as they were.  But the other thing I noticed was the use of the word “we.”  Australians feels they are all part of their country; nowhere did I notice a sense of “me.”  It was nearly always “we.”

That sense of “we” was never more evident than what happened immediately during and after the Queensland flooding.  Suddenly there were donation boxes and cans everywhere in Coffs Harbour, and – I was soon to find – in Sydney, where I finished up the last two days of the trip.  I’m sure those donation cans and boxes showed up throughout the continent, although in Perth wildfires had already started and those emergencies began to take precedence.

The harbor at Coffs Harbour - a beautiful coastal resort community

There were several other things I noticed about Australians.  They are open, friendly, and laid-back people and they seem, at least from my cursory two-week glance, to be a people without the cynicism and anger that seems to have spread like a virus here in the U.S.  That being said, they still have their share of problems.  I started reading the “Sydney Morning Herald” before my trip, and find that I still check the online edition every other day or so.  There are the usual crimes one would expect in a large city, and they are not immune to difficulties with politicians, economic problems, and other issues.  Still, I kept noticing how much Australians reach out to help each other with even the smallest of things: carrying groceries out of a store, picking up something that’s fallen, giving assistance to someone trying to manage a baby carriage.  The cheery phrase, “No worries, mate” was something I heard often.

I also picked up on some startling differences in the media.  I happen to subscribe to “Reader’s Digest,” an old addiction from childhood, and my friends had the Australian edition in their home.  I was startled to find the Australian edition full of positive, uplifting stories while the American edition was full of more fear-laden “Can this happen to you?” types of articles.  I think I need to speak to the editors about that…

View of the Sydney Opera House from zoo ferry

View of Sydney Opera House from the zoo ferry

The newspapers were different as well.  I brought back a copy of the Coffs Harbour “Advocate,” because I was laughing so hard at the headlines, full of puns and plays on words.  People were pumped up about a new sewer line; a local construction firm felt hammered – and more.  Turns out the Australian love of words is evident nearly everywhere – from verbal rhymes which seemingly make no sense to the outsider, to puns in headlines.  There is a playfulness in all of it that is delightful.

I got home to the U.S. on January 22nd, after two weeks which gave me the mental rejuvenation – the hard “re-boot” – that I’d needed for several months.  Just a few days later, protests began in Egypt, and the world watched – and waited.  I discovered the tweets of Egyptian journalist Sarah El Sirgany, and told my students to follow the events online.  It readily became apparent that civilian Egyptians were carrying out security checks for anyone wanting to enter Tahrir Square – they didn’t want any firearms or any violence.  Later, I wrote on my Facebook page that  I cannot remember another time in my life when an entire nation – unable to vote – brought about revolution by peaceful means. Incredible self-restraint among the Egyptian people; incredible persistence until voices were heard.

Bear - sleeping off some pain meds

This morning, Bear and I slowly went out to get the morning paper.  He is limping heavily, of course, and I have a sling for his hind quarters to help support him and get him up and down the back ramp and over some rough spots.  Once we were back inside, I indulged in my favorite Sunday morning pastime: reading the funnies and “Parade” magazine before getting to the hard news of the day.  I checked in with Doonesbury – another 30-year-old habit – and there found that Gary Trudeau had hit the nail on the head yet again: ‘What are we like as a people?  Well, let’s look at two sets of facts…nine years ago, we were attacked.  3,000 people died.  In response, we started two long, bloody wars and build a vast homeland security apparatus – all at a cost of trillions! Now, consider this. During those same nine years, 270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire at home.  Our response?  We weakened our gun laws.”

Consider that. 

I wonder how my own beloved country can finally cast off fear, cynicism and anger, and begin to disarm ourselves, as private individuals, voluntarily – so that we get our sense of “we” back, and do not always feel the need to be protected from each other.  We have such a wonderful history of being an open, hospitable, friendly people.  Surely we can regain our American optimism and American “can do” spirit once again.   I’m spending the next eight weeks helping Bear to heal; I’m wondering what it will take for our amazing country to heal as well.

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