Four years is a long time, but also one that is easily taken stock of. Or is it? How do you summarize what happened in four years in, say, ten minutes – aside from the fact that ten minutes of reading will also depend on how fast you personally read and how dense the subject matter is? What if you were to sketch out what is different now to what was before? How have you changed? How has your life changed, and the world and people around you? Do you count the life events? Or the times you moved house? Do you take stock of the people and places you have gotten to know? Account for your spiritual growth or your material wealth? Number the gadgets, the scars or the memories both good and bad? Do you reflect on what has stayed part of your identity, and what has not? Can you glean an insight into what matters in life and why you are here? How? Against what foil, metric or narrative?
Sitting in my favourite spot in the world – a wooden veranda in my garden, looking out onto a low-slung mountain of the Bavarian Alps – I have spent most of today reflecting on these questions. Because four years ago, we upped sticks and moved from down under to Europe. With no job prospects and three little kids in tow. We quit our careers – not knowing if and how we would even make a living, sold all our stuff, and jumped on a plane.
And now? Never have my wife and I lived as long in the same place as we have for the last 48 months. We have settled. Indeed, the family has gone native. Even if we are and always will be Australians, too – we have put down roots in the Bavarian soil. Over the course of the last four years, our fourth child was born. The other children (all born and – thus far – bred Aussies), also grew and flourished, thank God. Two completed primary school and moved on to high schools, one started primary, one started kindergarten. We took our savings and put down a deposit on a house. We lived with less than a third of the income we had in Australia for a long time. We took our time furnishing our place (we still are), but also rather quickly built an extension to our house to make room for the growing family. We inherited some noisy and loyal Appenzeller dogs from an uncle who passed away. We kept cute rabbits for a while, one of which died, – and we adopted an obstreperous little cat, who almost died when she swallowed a metal clasp from a sausage end she greedily stole from the rubbish bin one night.
When we left Australia, my wife, a career scientist and outstanding cancer researcher, quit her job at the University of Sydney. Being able to look after the family more made her into a better person. Now, on top of running this (by some standards) large and (by any standard) very busy family, she is a successful science writer and journalist. Her balding husband (i.e. yours truly) is onto his third job: the first reacquainted me with European, or rather, German journalism and working culture; in particular the local media practices (many of which are on the long list of things to blog about). The second job was, amongst many other things, an anthropological expedition: an 18-month-long adventure that drew me deeply into the inner workings of the Catholic Church; a rich, rewarding and above all incredibly challenging experience from which I brought back many stories, personalities and narratives to write about at some later stage. And the third and current job, which I have held for just about two years now, is in some ways a dream job: editor-in-chief of a small but not unimportant and proudly historic weekly newspaper; one that I hope to continue exploring for a good while yet.
When we arrived, we were confident and hopeful. And, like concentric circles, we were welcomed and given a fair go: Bavarian institutions, regional services, the healthy economic climate of the Munich metropolitan region – and above all the local shire and village. Within a few months, I was able to find a job, and establish a real home for my family and myself. This is not just because I am a native Bavarian with local knowledge, a local name and the requisite lingo, although all of this helps, of course. As I am sitting here in this small village, a dozen or so refugees from the Middle East and Africa are playing noisily on a nearby street in the autumnal sun. They are a sample of the many thousands that have all come to Germany because of its high acceptance rate of asylum seekers; not to mention the many migrants from dozens of nations that are calling this country now home. Many of them I work with on a daily basis. They are better looked after here than in Australia or any other European country, except perhaps Scandinavia. Not to mention other regions. If you apply yourself and are willing to take some risks, Germany, in particular Bavaria, is arguably one of the best places to be on this planet right now. And not just in terms of its economic indicators, natural beauty and strong democratic institutions.
Right – but what about the interior life, and the life of ideas and personal growth? During these four years I must have read a few hundred books (my Goodreads account is a very incomplete but growing record of my literary appetite) and watched many, many films. I completely stopped watching regular TV. I started Wimmerblog.com and published my first short story, “The Scorcher”. I gave several talks and took time to write prose whenever I reasonably could after a day of writing journalism. Travelled to Spain, Croatia, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the Vatican and the Czech Republic. Took up ocean swimming and swam my first open water race. Spent a week in hospital with a mysterious disease – possibly Chikungunya fever – but recovered quickly and – so far – completely. And during all of this time I met an incredibly diverse number of individuals and families, some of them enriching, inspiring, challenging in the best sense of the word – and many of them I am grateful to now call my friends. Above all, however, I grew in my spiritual life, and through this, as a husband to my adored wife and as a father to my beloved children. I was able to give my roles and vocations in life a go. And it was here that I really found meaning and a purpose. Everything else was – and is, and will be – secondary.
Regrets? I’ve had a few
Of course, there are regrets. Most of these are personal: I regret not making more fully use of the time, talents and abilities given to me. I regret not living up to expectations of myself in many ways, and at another level, regret regretting this, since it means I am sometimes not humble enough to realize and make peace with my own – or others’ – limitations. I was not always the best husband, father, co-worker, friend, boss, writer, journalist, that I could have been. Sometimes, by a long shot. But I am grateful to say that I was allowed to start again every day. And – since I am a practicing Catholic – with a completely clean slate whenever I needed to avail myself of the sacrament of reconciliation, aka confession.
So how have you grown in the last four years? What are your regrets and how do you think we take stock, or rather: how we should? What would you write down for a ten minute read?
I started writing this as “four years in four minutes”. Then I corrected it to five, and, finally, ten minutes…I had to stop myself from making it more than that. Try it, and you may find the same thing happen to you. Either way, let me know – I’d be curious to find out!