Reflection Title: Origin Stories!
Book – In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson traveled around the world and all the way Down Under to Australia, the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. Australia exists on a vast scale, a shockingly under-discovered country with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on this planet, and more things that can kill you in extremely malicious ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the 10 most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, fluffy yet toxic caterpillars, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish.
In a Sunburned Country is a delectably funny, fact-filled and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity. Wherever Bryson goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging. They are the beaming products of a land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bryson its perfect guide.
As we are winding down this Year of Magical Learning adventure, you know it wouldn’t feel right if Emilia and I didn’t take one last trip with our favorite author in Bill Bryson. Luckily for us, Bill delivered again with In A Sunburned Country, like he always does.
With each final book and subsequent reflection completed, I’m filled with all kinds of mixed emotions. A part of me is so proud of us for getting this far, and another part of me is sad that this incredible adventure is slowly coming to an end. I’m doing my best to enjoy these final few days and stay in the moment, but it is really challenging, not going to lie.
In a Sunburned Country was everything we hoped it would be and then some. We learned a lot, laughed a few times, and discovered a magical new place that was always there but seemingly hidden in plain sight. Before this journey with Bill, when I thought about Australia the first things that come to mind are Olympic swimming excellence, the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, a country filled with weird animals, Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin, Foster’s Beer, and Outback Steakhouse’s serving Alice Springs Chicken and Bloomin Onions. It is almost comical how little I knew about this massive island and one of kind ecosystem. Australia, and its inhabitants, sound like one incredible and truly unique place in this crazy world.
The one piece of knowledge that I think everyone knows about Australia is that it was originally founded by Great Britain as a penal colony, meaning they exported their convicts and lowest of the low citizens to this massive island on the other side of the world. For some reason, I’d always had it in my mind that this unique beginning would be considered a source of national pride. However, according to Bill, it turns out that couldn’t be further from the truth. I guess Australians don’t really like it when people bring this up, which initially really surprised me for some reason.
My surprising realization got me thinking about origin stories and how often they are often misconstrued by outsiders.
As an outsider to Australia, it sounds so cool to visualize some rag tag bunch of roughnecks being thrown into a foreign land and finding a way to survive and thrive in a harsh environment only to have it become what we know of it today as a beautiful country filled with amazing people. However, after spending just 5 minutes thinking about what they actually went through my perceptions changed dramatically. I can’t even imagine being ripped from my home and sent on a trip around the world in a boat to someplace that no one knew anything about, whether I was a criminal or not. Then, assuming I safely completed the voyage, to step off the boat and discover that no other civilized life existed and that I was basically on my own for survival in a very hostile environment. Cap all that off with the knowledge that I was a cast off from my own people who didn’t want me and cared so little about my life that they were willing to send me around the world so they wouldn’t ever have to see my face again. That doesn’t sound nearly as cool as I initially thought.
That is the thing with most origin stories, the further removed we are from the initial trauma, the easier it is to focus on all the good that resulted from the struggle while not understanding how it came to be in the first place. I saw Australia today as a place filled with amazing people, beaches, cities, and unique life. 150 years ago, it was a place filled with pain and suffering.
This reminded me of when I visited Pearl Harbor in Hawaii a few years ago, I didn’t really feel anything other than a beautiful day in paradise while visiting a tourist attraction. That couldn’t have been more different than when I visited the World Trade Center memorial for the first time in New York City. I could hardly breathe as I slowly walked through the exhibits and held back tears from bursting out of my eyes. I was angry, sad, and hurt. The only difference between the 2 experiences is that I had lived through one and not the other.
I wanted to share this as a reminder for anyone finishing this adventure with Emilia and I, that we are still in pain and will be for the rest of our days. The Year of Magical Learning is a beautiful creation that we are both so proud of to share with the world, but please don’t ever forget how we got here. In 200 years from now, people won’t see the devastating forest fire that burned millions of acres destroying everything in its path. No, they will see the lush green space that grew back in its place that supports a diverse ecosystem and teems with life and assume that this is the way that it has always been. However, this is your reminder to always strive to be respectful of the garden’s you enter because they most likely rose from the charred reminiscences of a previous life.
Question: How can you strive to understand the full story in your daily interactions?
What is The Year of Magical Learning? - An Introduction
YOML Podcast Discussion - Coming Soon
YOML Bookstore - In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson