30 Dec 2017

The art of letting go

9:47 am on 30 December 2017

First Person - RNZ Nelson correspondent recalls a year not without its challenges - and learning to live with less.

Scoundrel under gennaker.

Scoundrel under gennaker. Photo: Supplied

I'm still not sure what was worse.

The 10 days it took for a biopsy result, or the six-month wait for the Employment Court to decide our future.

Neither experience comes recommended, but each triggered lessons in learning to be happy with less.

We had a plan - the first time ever I'd made one. I'd seen a yacht - my love boat really. A small yacht for which I was willing to sacrifice our comfortable seaside house, and so we did.

We bought a cottage in a low-price part of town and aimed to live in it until we were flush enough to sail away, like many of our friends.

Their blog posts from Madagascar, Mauritius, Greenland and the aquamarine lagoons of Asian islands make sailing look ridiculously easy and trouble-free. We hit a speed-bump when the doctor found a lump in my neck. While I'd dipped my toe into scary waters a few times before, it was nothing like that whirlpool of dread.

Was it cancer? Maybe, but the surgeon joked she'd already had one lymphoma that morning, so it was unlikely she'd get two.

Lucky I wasn't first in that morning.

RNZ reporter Tracy Neal.

RNZ reporter Tracy Neal. Photo: Supplied

Scans, a biopsy, sedatives and finally the all-clear sent by text message. Relief. We were back on track, with a vengeance.

A budget was drawn up for the work needed on the yacht - a 10.5 metre performance cruiser with a great Kiwi pedigree and soul embedded in her kauri hull.

Scoundrel became our sole focus, while the rambling garden at home became more of a shambles. I developed a mild interest in tossing around a few packets of wildflower seeds, hoping the neighbours' bees might thrive on an expanded diet.

Fine weekends were spent in the Abel Tasman National Park, and summers in the Marlborough Sounds. The garden grew wilder, and I started to notice how much the Tui loved the flax, the chit-chat of tiny waxeyes settling for the night among the figs, and the sparrows tossing around twigs while building messy nests in the native shrubs.

And how laced in white frost, the garden stops breathing in mid-winter.

The schedule for Scoundrel's overhaul was set and the money was saved. The day after we hauled her out, my husband Rob got the "swing by for chat" email, and soon learned his job was gone. At Christmas. After 20 years with the company.

Scoundrel on Tasman Bay.

Scoundrel on Tasman Bay. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Big changes

The next two years were not so much a roller coaster of emotion as a dodgem through the potholes of the employment disputes process.

It also meant a big change in our lives financially and emotionally, with Rob taking a more minor job with the same firm, away from home.

The weekends he was home were mostly always the rainy ones, so sailing took a back seat. Then a huge earthquake struck and I was called away at times Rob was home.

Tracy Neal's garden.

Tracy Neal's garden. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

At least he got the house painted, and the garden weeded.

The Employment Relations Authority supported his argument that working on a fish farm was no substitute for the management job he'd lost. It instructed payment of his redundancy compensation.

The company disagreed, appealed, and the court agreed with it. In the time it took for the decision to arrive, Rob learned to relish the time away from home and my constant re-living of every detail.

I'd begun to dig the garden, literally and figuratively. I found solace in the plant section of Mitre 10, and I now even have a loyalty card at a more rural plant centre.

As time and money slipped away, so did our plan. Scoundrel is now destined for new horizons with a new owner, but with a bit of our own hearts and souls, blood, sweat and tears now embedded in her.

The dispute shadowed our lives for close to two years, in which time I've nurtured an old lemon tree back to life, planted baby citrus trees with which I enjoy evening talks, and planted things I can't pronounce, but which look incredibly pretty.

I've learned to love the mozzie-infested sunsets from the top of the garden, and if I stretch out far enough I can just see the sea. On stormy nights I can even hear it, and feel glad I'm safe on land.

I love walks on our many local beaches and the roiling surf at Cable Bay when the northerlies pound in. We've even started body-surfing, on the premise that if you can't be ON the waves, then at least be IN them.

I love my garden, our small wooden house, the bees among the flowers and the birds in the trees that envelope our place.

I love watching my adult daughter thrive at home with us, and know I could never sail off and leave her, our ageing parents, or my cat.

I'm grateful too that Rob is now back at home every day of the week, with a new job and a new direction.

I've learned to be happy with less, but maybe I just wanted too much. Now, when I sit drinking coffee among the early morning flowers, I realise I have more than I ever thought I had.

Here's to 2018.

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