On Real Life

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Right now we are knee deep in Kiwi summer mythology. For the next 2-3 months we understand that to be a true New Zealander is to find a slice of white-sand paradise, gather some fresh seafood, eat some ice creams and do some bombs. It's a mythology as strong snow men and Santa Claus at Christmas.  An idea so strong in our culture that people spend most of the year and a great deal of their income preparing for it in the hope of having the 'best summer ever!'. I find the modern idea of 'Glamping' (glamorous camping) particularly humorous;  which is basically those of us who don't really enjoy camping finding a way to fulfil our Kiwi mythology without having to go without clean clothes, cold beers and an inner-sprung mattress. While many people do these things because they genuinely enjoy them, isn't it funny how some of us will do it even if we don't just because we know it's what we're supposed to do? Midway through last year Anna and I had some nice friends shout us a trip to Fiji for a conference. We decided to make the most of the mid-winter break by going a couple of days earlier and spending some time at a resort - definitely a big change from our cold Newtown home where the cupboard doors blow open of their own accord during a storm! One afternoon while reclining under same palms I overheard a coconut-sipping couple just down the beach remark "ahh... this is the life." Something caught me as this familiar phrase rolled off their tongues. I began to wonder, 'if this is life, then what was that other thing we've been doing the past few years, and why weren't we here living 'the life?'. That 'non-life' was the one back home where it was cold and rainy. The one where I had responsibilities, where I had to deal with annoying conflicts, write funding applications, balance budgets, go to the dentist, wear a raincoat, and answer emails and phone calls.

It's funny how we consider the interruptions to the day-to-day to be somehow more 'real' when these moments are actually the least accurate snapshot of the people we really are. Who you are is revealed not by your passions and attitudes while lounging on a tropical beach, but by your daily commitment in the face of the regular slog and adversity. And yet we would say from our artificial sanctuary "this is what life really is."

I talked to a girl in her late teens a little while ago who is a student. We talked about what she was studying and what she planned to do after university. One comment revealed a wisdom and maturity present in very few her age. She told me: "I'm trying to remind myself that life doesn't begin after uni, my life has already begun and I have responsibilities to the people around me and my community now." Here was a girl in the quintessential holding-pattern of life, yet her resolve was not to wait for 'real life' to come to her, but to seek after responsibility, challenge and commitment now.

This is the life right now and we will either make the most of our present circumstances, or realise one day that we always wished we were somewhere else. Here are some ideas that have helped me to appreciate the life I have rather than the mythology I don't.

  • Quit Hyper-Reality What you see on Instagram (perfect food, perfect bodies, perfect coffee) is bullshit. We can all benefit by remembering that every photo and status we engage with on the internet tells an artificial story that doesn't include the full experience of human joy or struggle. We can help each other a little by trying to appear a little less perfect and realising that every photo of a perfect meal probably has a stack of dirty dishes just out of frame.
  • Walk Through Discomfort Walk through discomfort, not around it. We have become experts at transferring ourselves to another world when the one we live in becomes uncomfortable whether by television or travel. Pain, both physical and emotional, is our body's way of telling us that something isn't right. Rather than using entertainment anaesthetic to dull our senses to it, we could learn to sit in painful silence and painful conversation that anchors us in reality and reminds us what it is to be human.
  • Be Grateful, Be Generous It's easy to be focussed on what we lack without noticing what we have. Do you have a job? that's an incredible thing to have in our current economy! Do you have friends? because there are many people who don't! Some people will never be happy for a moment longer than unboxing their latest toy lasts. When we become passionate about the life we have rather than the one we don't we are finally able to look beyond our own self-interest to the needs of our neighbours and our community.