Another birthday and I am pleased to say I am now 55!
I have always believed it is better to be having birthdays than to not have them.
As birthdays are an excellent opportunity to do a bit of a review of your life I have decided to take a sentimental look back in time 30 years to when I was 25 and see what wisdom I have gained since then.
The world was a very different place in 1986 and I was a very different girl.
25 and searching for something
By the time I was 25 I had been through two serious relationships, broken two hearts, one mine and one someone else’s and spent four years as a high school teacher in country Queensland.
I was a confident, sexy young woman who should have been happy with her life however I was searching for something and I wasn’t sure what.
It wasn’t marriage, it wasn’t a family and it certainly wasn’t love.
One thing I did know was I didn’t want to continue high school teaching.
It wasn’t that I disliked teaching, I just had this restlessness inside me that told me there was more to life out there somewhere and that I was destined to do something different.
So it was not a big decision for me to resign from teaching, sell my beloved red Mazda 323 and head off in search of some answers in Europe.
On a typical hot Brisbane summers day I said goodbye to my family at the Brisbane airport with no real plan of where I was going or when I would return.
There was lots of tears from me and a fair bit of anxiety as I boarded the Ansett Airlines plane that would take me to Sydney to connect with Qantas which would fly me to London via Singapore and Bahrain.
My only possessions were rolled up in a heavy backpack in the luggage compartment of the plane and tucked away safely in my handbag on board with me were my precious travellers cheques.
When cashed these flimsy rectangular pieces of paper would provide me with the meager funds I planned to live on until I could earn some money.
I was on my way and it wasn’t long before my feelings of anxiety gave way to excitement and liberation.
Grimsby, a town that unfortunately lived up to its name
Thirty two hours later I arrived at Heathrow airport on a very cold London day to be met by my friend Anne.
When I say I had no real plans of what I was going to do that was not quite accurate.
A year before Anne had moved with her new husband Peter to live in his hometown Grimsby on the eastern coast of England.
Anne was desperately homesick and my plan was to spend some time with her and Peter over Christmas while I got my act together and planned what I would do next.
I had what was known as a UK Grandparent visa as both my Dad’s parents had been born in England and this would enable me to work if I wanted to. But working was not on the agenda in the near future.
I first had to get out there and experience the world.
Now while it was lovely to spend time with Anne and Peter, the town of Grimsby was not really how I had pictured my great European adventure would begin.
As a seaport, the “Cod Wars” of the 1970s had taken their toll on Grimsby. It was clearly in decline and this was reflected in street after street of narrow, dark townhouses with very little heating.
I must admit I had never heard of the “Cod Wars” until I went to Grimsby in 1986, only the “Cold War” between the USSR and the West.
Apparently the infamous “Cod Wars” were a series of confrontations between the UK and Iceland regarding fishing rights in the North Atlantic and unfortunately for Grimsby, Iceland was the victor.
So after spending a few weeks with the “Codheads” of Grimsby I decided enough was enough.
Zurich and things don’t go according to plan
I was off to Switzerland to spend a couple of weeks with my brother’s friend Ruth, who had stayed with us the previous year in Brisbane.
In retrospect the fact that international phone calls were so expensive in those days is the only rationale I can now find for why I did not ring Ruth before I left London for Switzerland.
With the confidence, but not a lot of wisdom of a 25 year old, I sent her a letter telling her I was coming and expected all would be fine.
All was not fine however when I arrived in Zurich.
I had caught the cheapest bus I could get from London to Zurich which meant a 36 hour bus ride, a driver who didn’t speak much English and very few toilet stops.
Needless to say when I got off the bus I was tired, desperately in need of a shower and a toilet as well as a nice hot cup of tea.
A phone call to Ruth’s number and a conversation with her mother in halted English however put an immediate hold on any thoughts of a shower or cup of tea.
Ruth was not there and would be away from Zurich for at least another two weeks.
I put the phone down and stood in that very very cold phone box as I realised my plan now had a major flaw in it.
The first thing I decided to do was find somewhere out of the cold to get my head together and work out what to do next.
After buying a map and wandering around Zurich trying to get my bearings I spotted the Anglican cathedral.
Great. Churches were free to enter and it should be open and probably heated.
So I sat myself down in a pew in the back corner of the Cathedral away from anyone else as I contemplated my situation.
It didn’t take long for the tears to start, mainly from disappointment that my European adventure was getting off to such a bumpy start.
Seeing I was in a church I also took the opportunity to have a chat to God and ask if he didn’t mind, for a little help and some divine intervention.
An hour later, after warming up and getting my emotions in check, I had a plan.
The first thing I had to do was find was some accommodation for the night.
Finding somewhere to lay my pack down
The challenge with accommodation in Zurich is that like everything in Switzerland it is expensive.
Like most other Australian backpackers in those days I was on a budget of $25.00 a day and my bible was my “Let’s Go Europe on $25.00 a Day”.
It told me where to sleep, eat, party and pretty much everything else you would need to know in a new city.
It didn’t take me long to realise post Christmas Zurich was busy as I started to work though the accommodation options in my “Let’s Go”.
As it got close to dark and my prospects for accommodation for the night were looking slim, I was very relieved to find a hostel for women that was within my budget and had a spare bed in a dormitory room.
The hostel was in a beautiful old white rambling building that looked like it had been a nunnery at some stage.
It was run by some lovely Spanish nuns who spoke just enough English for me to book in and find my way to my dormitory which I discovered consisted of about 16 beds and at that stage no other occupants.
The night I learnt about gratefulness
After a shower and some cheese and bread I had purchased for dinner I settled down to a quiet night of reading.
It wasn’t long before I noticed the dormitory starting to fill up with other women who appeared to be from somewhere in the Middle East.
Each of these women entered the room quietly with their heads bowed, whispering amongst each other.
It wasn’t until later that night and some tentative conversations with those of them who could speak English that I discovered they all came from Iran.
These gentle and refined women were refugees from the feared Khomeini regime in Iran where their freedoms had been taken from them and they were being systematically persecuted.
They had managed to escape across the border to Iraq and then made it to Switzerland with the help of the Catholic Church to end up in this refuge provided by these gentle Spanish nuns.
As we talked gingerly throughout the night and I heard their stories of oppression and courage I realised there was one overpowering emotion that filled the room that night and that was the feeling of gratefulness.
These women who had experienced such terror and pain and displayed such incredible courage were simply grateful to be alive and safe.
They had no clothes, no money and no idea of what was next but none of that mattered that night in that warm dormitory room.
As I reflected the next morning on the night before I realised God had intervened after all.
I was not meant to be in a comfortable home with Ruth and her family that night eating a warm meal and catching up on our lives since we had last seen each other.
I was meant to be in that domitory room with those amazing women, listening to their stories and realising how lucky I was to be a woman who had grown up in Australia.
A woman who was able to take off and explore the world on a whim and who could at any time return to her safe and loving home and live a happy and fulfilling life.
I also know now that what I experienced that night was excellent preparation for the rest of my year away. Whatever I would be confronted with, none of it would compare with the experiences of these woman.
I would be grateful and courageous in all my adventures.
At 55 my life has become even richer than what it was at 25 and I m pleased to say I now have so much more that I am grateful for.
I am grateful for the love of a wonderful man who supports me and takes joy in exploring our lives together.
I am grateful for my body and what I have learnt over the past five years about health and looking after myself.
I am grateful for the happiness being Aunty Lyn brings me.
I am grateful for this new stage in my life and the opportunities I am being given to make a difference.
Looking back on my life I know there have been times when I have forgotton to be grateful and this is when I have lost my way.
Those were the times when I have taken my life for granted and focused too much on how much money I was earning, or how many clothes I had or how hard I was working, or how stressed I was.
I will not lose my way again.