I’ve just returned from New Zealand filled with new, priceless memories and a host of experiences to mull, ponder and treasure. My brother, an Australian resident for decades, decided to celebrate his 60th birthday with a “destination” party, found a vacation house to accommodate 10 of us in a charming resort-ish community and invited us for a deliciously low-key gathering to share his love of quiet lakes, stunning mountain vistas, rumbling glaciers, laughter, wine, good food and chocolate in any form. Time to catch up with old southern hemisphere relatives and meet new ones.
For years I’ve advocated gifts of experience — tickets for a play or concert, a waterfall hike or a whale-watching trip — instead of gift-wrapped stuff topped with manufactured bows.
On special occasions, the presence of dear ones is all the present I want.
Once my brother checked vacation and school schedules and booked the guest house, I cashed in my flyer miles.
Contemplating a trip halfway around the world, I remembered connecting with a lovely Maori woman at an Ancient Wisdom gathering in Port Townsend. She’d been empowering women in villages across New Zealand with the Maori legends and stories — work that resonated with my own interests.
I e-mailed her, mentioning my exploring Aboriginal spiritual and cultural dimensions in my book, “Inside Out Down Under: Stories from a Spiritual Sabbatical,” and a magazine piece about the canoe journeys along the Salish Sea. Perhaps there was a story about her culture. Could we connect?
Raina invited me to come and stay with her in her village. Time and distance meant my flying to the North Island coast where she would pick me up.
No flyer miles to cover this flight, but, as one friend grinned, “This is why God created credit cards.” Who could set a price on a once-in-a-lifetime experience? Or the chance to add a second one to the same trip?
On the long journey home, I ruffled through a memory landscape nearly the length of the fire and ice country. Mount Aspiring. The mica-rich shore of Lake Wanaka. Steep slopes pitching down to Lake Wakatapti. The rubble-strewn lower reaches of the Tasmin Glacier. Aorokie, aka Mount Cook. A mountain range called The Remarkables.
My distant relatives transformed from benevolent strangers who received brief mentions in my sister-in-heart’s holiday newsletter to people with fascinating interests, warming smiles and accents I mostly understood. Tamsin and Adam have two beautiful, easy-to-be-with daughters while maintaining creative urban lives. Sally and Dave, children well-launched, have created a remarkable web-based resource for teaching about peace and conflict, genocide and reconciliation at www.rwandanstories.org.
Raina taught me that the Marae, a longhouse-like building at the center of life in a Maori village, is like a library, if you know how to read it. I met part of her vast family, the singers of the tribe for generations, and watched her community join in seeding their beach with thousands of baby paua (abalone) after poachers had decimated that resource.
Returning home, I was yanked from my reveries by discovering that I’d been robbed. A thief, or thieves, snuck in, apparently while my housemate was at home, stripped away a collection of necklaces from my bedroom wall, made off with a small drawer full of jewelry, rucked up my bed — maybe seeking real valuables under the mattress — and left. Nothing else appears to be missing.
What’s odd is that what’s been taken are mostly memories.
The missing jewelry, mostly gifts, represent a wealth of experiences.
The sheriff wants a list — complete with a value for every item. “Not replacement costs, but what you’d get selling it to someone,” said the deputy.
The dollar value of Venetian glass beads or the aquamarine necklace that enchanted my mother? A silk cord with a ball chime from my Qi Gong master, necklaces presented to me by the tribe, a brocade ribbon beaded at a Womanfest board retreat?
I can’t decide which is sadder: losing the symbols of decades of memories or coping with a system that reduces everything to money.
Simply asking the question provides a different perspective on holiday gift-giving.
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