Fabulous New Zealand

gaynzYesterday I sat down at my computer with my cornflakes as I usually do at breakfast time and read a news (I use the term loosely) Website from New Zealand. This little ritual has been going on for years and helps me feel connected to those two long islands down in the South Pacific.

One headline caught my eye (Young Nelson doctor pays tribute to late partner through exhibition) and I clicked. As the accompanying photo is of a man, I assumed his deceased partner was a woman. But as is revealed in the first paragraph, his partner was male. Nothing too shocking there. This is, after all, the country that was fifteenth in the world to allow same-sex marriage (and incidentally was the first country in the world to allow women to vote). But what I read next surprised me. The ‘young doctor’ is 24 while his partner was, oh, a bit older – 85. I nearly choked on my cornflakes – that’s almost a sixty year age gap. While I try not to be too judgy in matters of the heart, I did look twice.

The article goes on to show a photo of the couple (who had been together for six years) and talk about their shared love of landscape photography, which took them on international adventures (Wong’s partner, Barry Woods, was a professional photographer). It also mentioned that the hospice in which Wong’s exhibition is a fundraiser for gave the couple of a lot of support during Woods’ battle with lung cancer.

Reading this from my little perch in Seoul, in what has to be one of the most conservative, sexist, racist, classist, conformist, ageist, patriarchal, closed-minded and homophobic countries in the developed world, I felt a surge of pride for my homeland. While New Zealand has its fair share of social problems (child abuse and poverty, rising inequality, erosion of indigenous rights, covert racism, an embarrassing prime minster etc.) it is awesome that such an article can be graciously published on one of the country’s most popular and mainstream news Websites.

While I don’t have the mobility of someone with say, an EU passport, I’m so happy that I was born in New Zealand and have grown up in a progressive, accepting and free-thinking society. I’m grateful for the world-class education I received which fostered the growth of a social conscience and open mind which underpins the person I am today. I heart you NZ!

2016: The year of gratitude

Champagne_2I found myself whispering on December 31st at midnight, “2015, don’t let the door hit you on the way out and DON’T fall down the fucking stairs.” It was one of those years and although nothing changes after a day when the calendar flips over, I like to think of it as a metaphorical closing of a chapter.

It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, so my new practice of listing at least five things that I’m grateful for everyday has been and will continue to be a source of comfort. The benefits of having ‘an attitude of gratitude’ have been scientifically researched and documented at leading universities around the world. Like mindfulness, and compassion, it’s not new but is enjoying a renaissance and increasing popularity among those in the affluent West (the ‘worried well’). According to Harvard, “Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”

It could be easy for an anti-materialistic wandering hippy gypsy like myself to bemoan my lack of material objects and things associated with status and prestige (seriously, why would anyone drop $50,000 on a new BMW?! You could travel around the world for years on that!). So, I’ve taken a leaf from my Indonesian and Cambodian friends’ book. Although they don’t have much economically or materially (or because they don’t have much), they understand the importance of social connections and being grateful for what little they do have.

Just thinking about today, I can be grateful that I live in a warm, clean, modern apartment. That I have a comfortable bed and fridge full of healthy food that I chose and bought myself. That I was able to have a hot shower. That I was able to easily purchase a book I wanted. That I have five different kinds of tea to choose from. That I have time to sit down and write this and that I have a computer to write it on and access to the Internet to publish it. Having a fast and reliable Internet connection means that I’ve also been able to connect with friends, and do online study. I can walk outside without ever worrying I’m going to be attacked or hit by gunfire. That I basically have the freedom to do and say what I want. Stretching time, to think about the past and future weeks and months, I am gainfully employed, I have savings, I am healthy, I have health insurance, I have access to decent medical care should I need it, I have friends and family that care about me. I needed (wanted?) some new shoes, so I bought some. I had the means to take myself to a warm, sunny jungle paradise to help heal a broken heart. I have access to professional counsel. I have the privilege of having champagne problems and indulging in white whines. I also have the privilege of being able to legally work in multiple countries around the world. The color of my skin and the nationality of my passport ensure that I’ll always have a degree of security and access to health and education and a social safety net to catch me should I fall.

So here’s to 2016 – the year that no matter what, there is always something to be grateful for. As Epictetus once said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”