Monday, July 22, 2013

The love letter to Sydney

The Germans call it heimweh, and literally translated, it means an ache for home. I ache for many places I’ve called home—south Germany at the end of spring when the strawberries are in season and the lakes are full, Stockholm in winter when the darkness is covered in snow and the windows are full of Christmas candles and on certain wet, rainy evenings, I even long for London with its perpetually grey skies and grimy glory. But never has the heimweh been greater than for my hometown of Sydney.

When I am away, my ache for Sydney is a year-round thing. I crave its beaches in the summer, the smell of SPF50+ heavy in the air and the horizon littered with so many surfers, watched by red-capped lifeguards and tourists alike. In winter, I miss the glittering harbor, and the dull blue sunshine glinting off the sails of the Opera House. Never do I cross the Harbour Bridge and not find my heart beating faster, the adrenaline akin to a first date. Every time I see the Pacific lapping at your shoreline Sydney, you take my breath away.

I miss my childhood home, in a small leafy suburb filled with two decades of memories. This suburb was where my First Fleet landed—my family arriving here as migrants and settling forever in this corner of what I truly believe is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I know we don’t have Gaudi’s architecture. I’m aware we don’t share Italy’s ancient history, and I understand that if it’s culture you’re looking for, the theatres of London and the galleries of New York may have more to offer.

But every day, I am reminded of how lucky I am to live here. In South Africa, one in three women are the victims of rape. In Syria, the UN has declared that the greatest human tragedy of our generation is unfolding in the refugee camps strewn across that country. In the States, gun crime rises daily while a corrupt government, run by corporate self-interest, does nothing to protect its citizens.

I know we aren’t perfect. Our treatment of refugees and our refusal to legalise same-sex marriage are a shameful part of our public policy. But I am inspired that these issues also remain a headline of our public debate, and that we continue to argue the merits, rather than remain a nation placid and placated. I am grateful to live in a country where such public debate doesn’t result in government sanctioned massacres or public stonings for dissidents.

I am proud to be part of a nation where we truly live the values of successful nationhood, able to take care of our weakest members. Our public healthcare system is world-class, and our social outreach programs part of an ongoing private and public overhaul to become world-class. We take care of our old and our sick and our poor, and we should.

So why am I leaving?

Because it makes me afraid.

The pursuit of happiness has become a first world obsession. We’re talking about it, searching for it, blogging and instagramming about it. So obsessed have we become with finding happiness that we’ve forgotten that it’s ok to be uncomfortable sometimes. That pain, anxiety, anger, sadness and fear are a natural, nay essential, part of the gamut of emotions we are supposed to feel. We don’t have to always medicate these emotions away, nor is happiness the sole measure of a life well-lived.

I was happy. I had a lovely life with a good job, wonderful friends and a brilliant family. And then one day I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been afraid. Which meant I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done something new or learnt something new. Happiness was well and good, but as an old boss used to tell me, “Pressure makes diamonds.” What if there was more to me than simply being happy and comfortable?

I realised that I'd forgotten what I was capable of doing, that I hadn't pushed myself in too long. That my comfortable cocoon had resulted in a cycle where one day resembled the next, flitting between new wine bars and fancy restaurants and yoga studios in the pursuit of nirvana. And I was struck with the sudden uncomfortable thought that maybe I'd swapped happiness for comfort. That maybe I had stopped growing in any meaningful way. Because ultimately, personal growth and happiness are not found in a yoga studio or a meditation camp any more than they are found in the bottom of a glass at the newest hotspot. Life was there for the taking, and I'd stopped taking.

So this is it.

I’m leaving Sydney.

People keep asking me if I’m excited and I want to shout “No! I’m freaking terrified!” Tomorrow, I land in a city where I don’t know a single person, I don’t have a place to live, and I’m going to a job where I’m worried I won’t be nearly as good as people seem to think I am. I'm scared. I'm so unbelievably sad. I'm riddled with doubt about this decision. I’m starting from scratch, and I’m doing this all alone, armed only with two suitcases and a new red lipstick. (The lipstick is called Lady Danger, and it really does make me feel brave.)

My longest, greatest love affair has always been with the city of Sydney. Whatever happens, whatever adventures befall me, my steps will always return here, to this place filled with people I love, to a city so beautiful it needs no architecture to adorn it, to a country many risk their lives to belong to. Sydney, you are the north to my compass, the ache in my bones, the anchor to my restless ship. And how blessed I am to call you home.

See you soon. xx

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