Good News (Despite ‘The End of the World’)

With all the bad news out there in the world, tornadoes, typhoons, tragedies…I’ve had a special request from my sister to write about something pleasant and uplifting.

Something pleasant and uplifting: this is what I am thinking about, lying groggily in bed when an earthquake rocks me out of bed.  It causes everything to rattle and tremble.  My heart begins to flutter like I’ve been running a marathon.  From one second to the next I am jolted to my feet and I am steadily making my way to the sliding glass door.  Five seconds have gone by and the shaking persists, it gets stronger so I decide not to take any chances.  After hesitating for a moment, feeling ridiculous, I sling that door open and run out onto the front drive way.  Thankfully our yard is so full of vegetation not even the house can be seen from the street.  I was standing like a crazy woman, alone in my blue and yellow polka-dotted nightie waiting for one of two things to happen: for the world to come crashing down around me from severed landmasses or for everything to quiet down and stop shaking so I can get back to life as usual.  It was a bizarre twenty seconds of my life, perhaps the strangest few seconds I have ever experienced.  I was in a no man’s land of not-knowing.  A place of terrifying uncertainty if I thought about it enough and I was certainly thinking about it.  No longer were my thoughts focused on the pleasant and uplifting–those things were momentarily forgotten.  I was standing barefoot on pumice gravel, wondering among many other things, if I was going to be one of those displaced people you see on the news, needing a clothing donation.  I watched and listened in disbelief as the wooden house creaked and cracked.  Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it stopped.  The rattling ceased and normality returned.

Inside the house nothing had been shaken off a shelf, nothing was broken.  Everything was in tact and still and quiet; I was the only thing reeling.  I retraced my thoughts and recalled what I was doing before the quake happened.  Oh the irony!  I was thinking of something pleasant and uplifting.  I was thinking about good stories to tell so I could remind my sister that the world is not all bad and scary despite what the news says.

What I was actually thinking about were these twelve backpackers I met yesterday.  They are working for a local orchard thinning apples from the trees.  They get up on ladders, choose the lesser-looking apples in the trees, pluck them from the branches and let them fall to the ground.  They get paid something like a dollar a tree which will equate to about an hourly minimum wage.  They have about a month of hard, mindless labor here and then they will move on, continuing with their travels in New Zealand.

Yesterday was Friday so they were all meeting up for a beer, which was when I got to talking to them.  Most are from France in this group but there are a few from the Czech Republic and another couple from Holland.  Many are students taking a break from their studies to gain experience and perspective and improve their English.  Some are working professionals who just wanted to get away and clear their heads for a year.  One guy is a scientist who just finished his PhD on solar cells.  One gal is a physical therapist.  These are people who have no business picking apples, doing hard, mindless labor–except for the fact they have chosen to do this.  They all have one big thing common: they are searching, seeking, learning.  They are pushing limits.

The Dutch couple told me they have a bucket list.  Working on an orchard was one item on their list.  Swimming with dolphins, seeing a Kiwi bird and Orca whales were also items on their list.  They said that it’s been so much fun checking things off that they are going to make a bucket list for when they get home, too.

One guy–the Czech–explained to me (with some translation help from his girlfriend) that he used to work in a Czechoslovakian prison as a guard.  He said he gave orders all day and found it mentally demanding and exhausting.  Here, he says, he loves picking apples.  He says it’s so relaxing–you don’t have to think about anything or worry.

I admire the hell out of these people.  For one, the work is hard.  You’re under the intense heat of the sun all day long, out in the relentless wind and at the end of the day they are spent.  After a long day outside, exposed to New Zealand’s fickle weather, they don’t have anywhere particularly nice to go.  They sleep crammed into in their vans and rarely take a hot shower.  They live out of their cars and will do this for the next six months to a year.  For this journey, they gave up more than the comforts of home, they gave up the luxury of such a simple human necessity, like shelter to camp wherever they can.  They gave up certainties like a toilet.  Some left important, well-paying jobs in Europe’s uncertain economic times.  Talk about brave.  Talk about resilient.  Talk about cool.

One thing they love, in particular, about New Zealand, the red-headed French girl told me, was how friendly everyone is.  They were standing on a street corner in Auckland, looking at map and people would stop and ask them if they needed help.  The redhead said, “It was so nice!  And now we are going to do this too when we get back to France.”

The Dutch guy pointed to the panorama, “Here it is so beautiful.  In Holland it is flat and gray and there are houses everywhere.  We don’t have this kind of space and nature.”  He is an architect and he marvels at the simplicity/functionality of a typical New Zealand-style house.

Talking to them reminded me about perspective. I thought about these people this morning when I thought about ‘something uplifting’ because I think they are inspiring.  They are today’s pioneers/explorers.  There are very few people out there who are willing to sacrifice comfort for experience and growth.  These young people are on a quest.  They are willing to live in impoverished conditions, homeless and far away from everything they know in the hopes they will gain something, in the hopes they will be transformed in ways both known and unknown.  They will get back to their “real” lives at home and they will see things with a larger, more open, expanded mind.  They will probably face difficulties with newly acquired skill–a skill they’ve gained through voluntary humility, the antonym of hubris.

It was refreshing to meet people like this.  So intent to fill themselves full like ticks of everything the world has to offer.  So willing to stretch and reach and if you ask me, the fact that people like this exist is good news.  In fact, I believe there is good news all around is if we choose to see it.  Life is full of tragedy and we see this on the news all too often.  It can be tempting to buy into the notion that it is all bad–but it isn’t.  We see a lot of bad because that’s the media’s job–drama sells.  But you don’t have to travel the world to find the uplifting and the pleasant.  Good news is similar to bad news in that you can find it in your own neighborhood just as easy as you can find it in far-flung places.

There will be no news reports about the 5.8 earthquake felt all over the North Island this morning.  Why?  Because nothing bad happened.  Life has not been disrupted, no damage occurred, no lives were lost.  Everything is, actually, fine.  Life continues and that is nothing but good news.   When the world doesn’t end on December 20th, as predicted, ten bucks says no one will report the good news.

Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our comfort zones a little.  I certainly needed that literal wake-up call.  The one where you find yourself standing in the front yard wondering if you’ll ever see your panty drawer in tact again.  The one where all you have might become temporarily out of reach–as if you had left home for a trip in a foreign country to live like a backpacker/homeless traveler for a year or more.  It is in moments like these that you might see how the bad news serves a purpose–it helps us to better recognize the good when we see it and to celebrate it when we experience it.

As I continue my day today, thanks to that terrifying earthquake, I will be appreciative of everything–even the smallest of things like the option to have a hot shower and wear clean clothes that are mine–a reality that I was not so sure I would have access to while listening to the house shake this morning.

The strangest thing about bad news is that sometimes it brings about good news.  This is, of course, the stuff they rarely talk about.  It’s the spirit of survival, the generosity of strangers, the comfort you will find in a community who pulls together in difficult times.

You want good news, sister?  I promise, it’s out there.  Sometimes, you just have to find it for yourself.

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