Happy New Year everyone from the land of the first light. We’ve had a busy summer, filled with wonderful visits from our family back home and numerous trips that the kids have reported well on. The ocean is warm enough to swim in without a wetsuit, and the days are longer and filled with outdoor fun. In short, it has been a great time to unplug from the blog and enjoy the perks of January in the Southern Hemisphere. I’ve been slacking- guilty as charged.
We were nervous in some ways about sharing our new life and our New Zealand secret with our families. What if they couldn’t see the beauty of our lives here? What if we had changed in ways that we didn’t recognize, and that they couldn’t understand? In short, what if the people we love back home didn’t get it?
Well, turns out they got it. The appeal of New Zealand is fairly self explanatory. Our folks were here long enough to see first-hand what has allowed us to find happiness here in Gisborne.
As Fred has described, it hasn’t always been easy. But the state of the Irwins here in NZ is strong. Lucas continues to grow as a tennis player and as a teenager responsible for his own actions. Chloe brightens our lives with her creativity, and always seems to be in the middle of a new project (fortunately slime-free). Julien is a five-year-old boy bent on becoming his older brother or a patient in my ED, or both. All have made meaningful friendships here and found their way at school. Fred and I have re-learned the simple joys of a long lunch or an afternoon hike when the kids are in school. We’ve had meaningful conversations that were years overdue; about us, our dreams, our fears, the lives of our children and what we think we want to be when we’re grown up.
Given our current reality here in New Zealand, it probably won’t surprise anyone that we have struggled watching the US news, from the Kavanaugh confirmation through the government shutdown, and hearing the angst from our friends and family in Washington. Even the eternal optimists that I count on seem resigned to a more measured view of the future in our home country. This has been difficult to reconcile with our experiences here in our host country. New Zealand is by no means perfect: there is still income inequality, racial inequalities, crime (in particular domestic partner violence), environmental concerns, and a host of other problems one would expect with a population of 4.8 million people. But in general, the people of this country seem committed to promoting the common good and looking out for each other. It’s a different type of societal compact, born out of the Treaty of Waitangi and the principles of partnership, participation and protection. Admittedly its hard to distinguish from the sense of community we feel back home in Chevy Chase, but it is different.
Remember, this is still a town of 35,000 people. Life is much simpler here in Gisborne, and downright pleasant. I’ve got a great job with great colleagues and six weeks paid vacation. Who in their right mind would choose to leave this corner of the world and return to the mess that we’re watching on TV?
Us, apparently. Despite how much we identify with our Kiwi neighbors, we are Americans. Our children identify as Americans. I spent five years of my life serving my country on active duty, including two at sea on a warship. We have a house, a community of friends and family, and pets that are expecting our return (the latter may or may not want us back from what we gather). Our friends and colleagues here in New Zealand may make us want to forget all this, particularly when they refer to me at the hospital as a Trump refugee. (I remind them that the timing was coincidental). And I can certainly appreciate how others like us may opt to make a permanent life here in New Zealand.
I watched both the State of the Union address and the follow on Democratic responses this week on television, start to finish. To me it epitomized the challenges of finding a common path in a country of 325 million people lacking a common ancestry, that was built on the principles of freedom of opportunity. There was a part of tonight’s SOTU address however that I found strangely comforting. Despite the rhetoric, the eye rolling, the snark… there was a pleasant familiarity seeing all those Americans, OUR people, in a room at least trying to figure out a path forward. Maybe that’s the part that still gives me hope. That sense of national pride that says it might be a mess, but it’s still our mess and worth fighting for.
It’s both comforting and unsettling however to know that a wonderful alternative exists here in NZ.