I don’t always want to look backwards on New Year’s Eve but this year has been my most transformative ever, and the happiest I can recall. I had some sad and harrowing moments, but these were entirely offset by incredible times with beautiful people, many of whom helped me learn to better understand myself. Old friends and new have provided new viewpoints, unconventional ideas, and someone to measure myself against. Four people in particular have helped me understand what it is that makes me happy: a couch surfer, a film maker, a child and my new best friend.
A Canadian dancer and snake breeder entered my life through a Couch Surfing request late last year. Over a couple of months this independent thinking woman introduced me to the possibilities my own country offered. Seaweed soups, diving for paua (and ending up with sea snails), and late night discussions on a nest of sofas were among the more endearing moments from our friendship so far. But it was her deep and thoughtful contemplation of the ways in which she interacts with the world that had me cocking my head like a curious spaniel. She introduced me to a range of ideas more quickly than I was able to take them onboard, but I’ve spent many odd moments digesting the fruitful concepts she fed me and adding them to my understandings. I’d like to thank her for living her life like an adventurer no matter what her circumstances are. She helped draw my eyes up from my navel to the horizon, and helped me understand how to plot a new path for myself.
An American film maker was a second Couch Surfing discovery. Our friendship was born from similar interests and it grew quickly through the sharing of incredible experiences. We spent six weeks soaring in New Zealand, teaching each other, complementing each other’s world views and growing as individuals. But when I caught up with her later in Colorado we found a way to undo our bond with doubts and insecurities. We sacrificed our ability to inspire each other to better things and I came to understand the fragility that our pasts can instill in us. I gained from our time together though, she taught me to write as myself, to have faith in my good nature, and never to place too much trust in the judgement of others. As we travelled through the heart of the United States I began to truly understand the deep beauty of the world we live in through her gentle appreciation of the intricacies of nature. I’m forever grateful for the time we had together, though sad it had to end with us managing to grow so far apart.
The new child in my life is my wee niece. When I returned from my travels I visited my brother, his girlfriend, and their duck-fixated daughter. She taught me of the ability of children to reconnect us grown-ups to our truer selves. When she crawls into a room she’s a focal point, and it is endless fun watching normally taciturn New Zealand males gently place their beer bottles on the table and sink to her height, replacing stoic stares with wrinkle-webbed grins. Though children this age are armed with only facial expressions and grunts, they are a reminder that even without language we can communicate so much. This smiling little girl also reminded me that I never want to forget how to find simple pleasure as she does, in the way clothes hanging on the line cast bouncing shadows on a lawn, in the potency of the flavour of a lime, in the infectious giggles of others. Plus she’s going to grow into an awesome excuse to buy slot car sets and radio controlled cars over the next dozen Christmases.
The fourth and most important new person came into my life just as this amazing year was coming to an end. I arrived back in Aotearoa ready to carve out a new life, to create a beautiful, simple space in which I and others could learn to craft their own homes. As I began my hunt for land I met this woman, this fiercely independent kiwi girl who has lived her life making difficult choices and then learning so much from the consequences. In a year of meeting influential people she’s been the most incredible revelation of all. She’s someone who understands the joy of thinking independently, the importance of living within the world rather than just on top of it, and the benefits of living mindfully. She sees and appreciates me for who I am, rather than who she or I wish I could be. She magnifies my hopes and amplifies my dreams, and I hope that I contribute as much positivity to her life as she’s already brought to mine. I like to think she’s the best possible reward for simply being good.
I’ve been fortunate to travel this year and meet a beautiful array of people in the places I visited. I learnt the pleasure of the honest compliment from Ron in Colorado, rediscovered painting for the sheer joy of it with Belfast Kate in Derry, and rediscovered the poignancy of romance when I visited the lock bridge in Cologne with Ilja and Ivo. But returning home reminded me that we don’t always have to hunt out great people in Reykjavik, Westmeath or South Dakota. Catching up with my cousins Ben and Bam reminded me of how much fun it is to return to the people who knew you as a volatile young immortal, and I met the most important person of my new future in Cuba Street, over a cup of tea and forty minutes of breathless conversation.
So this year I’m not going to a big New Years festival, or catching a flight to Fiji. Instead I’m going to spend the evening with my cousin’s family, along with my guru/mentor/heroine. I realised some time ago that it isn’t the setting that’s the most important thing, it’s who you share it with.
Some of my most memorable events of 2013:
1. Dolphin swimming in Kaikoura, capturing it all on GoPro, and then it being set to one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the world.
2. Realising the true impact of altitude after (very briefly) chasing a fit young dog up a mountain at 10,000 feet in Colorado, surrounded by wild elk, deer, and evidence of bears.
3. Experiencing extreme-costume-envy as my sister and I engaged in a Derry Halloween. Her home-made ‘Beaker’ costume hatched smiles in children, flashbacks in adults, and a great photo of her and I high-fiving in front of a Northern Irish police Land rover. And having the photo taken by a PSNI despising Belfast girl dressed as ‘Spring’.
4. Watching my usually-separated-by-thousands-of-miles family battle it out to get to sit next to my nine-month old niece at a gorgeous meal in a sunny Marlborough vineyard.
6. A day which started in Paekakariki laughing more deeply and painfully than I have in years, and ended in Shannon where I realised coming back to New Zealand was the best decision I could have made.
8. A night in a lighthouse on Wellington’s South Coast, watching the skies transform and realising there was no other place on this Earth I wanted to be more.
9. Hiking to the cold face of Franz Josef glacier whilst being overflown by hundreds of helicopters in the breaking light of dawn.
10. Being introduced to the ‘tiny house’ movement by Jupiter, in her gorgeously renovated trailer at the base of the rocky mountains. Be well, Jup’s, my thoughts are with you, wild woman.
11. My Grandmother Zoe’s wake, a chance to learn how she impacted so many people in such favourable ways.