I went to a funeral last Wednesday. Like all funerals, there was grieving, but there was also a celebration of a life, a life filled with love, faith and family. His name was Malvin, and he died way too young, and ridiculously, surprisingly fast.
Naturally, funerals have a way of getting you to think about your own mortality. And not about things you’ve done, but rather things not done, or not finished, the regrets along the way. My biggest regret happened both 34 years ago and, simultaneously, last year. It’s the same regret, but as regrets go, it’s a doozy, at least to me.
A year ago, almost to a day, the four of us, my husband and our two children, left for New Zealand. In the days leading up to the trip I have been dreaming of for more than three decades, I would not let myself think about it too much, fearing that I would either hyperventilate, pee myself, pass out or all of the above.
The entire 11-day trip was even better than I could have thought possible, exceeding my every expectation. Throughout it I savored every bit, every bite of a Pavlova, every waterfall, every haka, every glowworm. Once, I walked so much that my feet were in absurd amount of pain. I was crying so hard, I was blubbering as snot was coming out of my nose. Yet I still saw amazing beauty around me, even in ordinary things such as ferns, fences and tree moss.
On the fifth day of our adventure, I had an unpleasant epiphany. It was after touring one of the wineries, started by an American ex-patriot, who moved to New Zealand about 30 years ago, as well as taking a boat-ride around some small islands, a sight-seeing company started by another American ex-pat who moved there almost 30 years ago. It was a realization that I was 30 years too late.
I fell in love with New Zealand when I was in high school, in 1983, after seeing a Kiwi movie called “Utu” (it means “Revenge” in Maori). However, right after high school, I went to college, not to another country. But in the back of my mind, New Zealand always shone like a pure bright blue light. If anyone ever asked me, “If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?” I knew the answer immediately — anywhere in New Zealand.
But it wasn’t until my husband and I sat down and wrote our top 10 list of dreams we wanted to accomplish, including places we wanted to visit, that Jeff and I committed to making that dream to go to Aotearoa the “land of the long white cloud,” a reality.
Somehow I had planted a thought in my mind, based on no evidence whatsoever, that all I had to do to belong was love New Zealand ardently and passionately and hard, and I would miraculously fit in. But no matter how much I loved these two islands, it wasn’t my country. And I couldn’t wave a magic wand of love — my imaginary portal had shut closed.
I want to blame the Silicon Valley millionaires, who started buying up a lot of land in New Zealand, preparing for the inevitable apocalypse, because they calculated that it was the safest place to be to weather it. They bought so much land, the government of New Zealand passed legislation making it illegal to sell land to non-citizens. (In the case of one millionaire, the citizenship was expedited, with much of money-grease, to matter of days. Yes, the rich are bastards. I can say this with confidence, because I am not one of them.) I want to blame the rich bastards, but really, that’s not it.
The thing is, I love my life. I love (and really like) my husband and kids, our house, our over-protective dogs. I am proud of things I have accomplished, like my college degrees, the jobs I’ve had, my friends. Yet in the back of my mind, there was this back-up plan, a plan B, if you will, and even I didn’t know how much space it took up in my heart.
I felt the loss of a dream in the very marrow of my bones, and for the rest of the trip, as wonderous as it was — and it was nothing short of every superlative I can throw at it — I would from time to time find myself crying, mourning the death of something I had never put into words before. A slim miracle that I would go to New Zealand, and the whole country would fall in love with me as much as I did with it (even before I set foot on its soil), and we knew we were made for each other, and I would get my dual citizenship, and then there may (or may not, this part is optional) be a parade, with refreshments to follow.
But it didn’t happen. And now it never will. I haven’t actually admitted it like that, “out loud” in writing before, but I know it’s true. That was just a trip of a lifetime. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.