You are a few thousand feet above downtown Sydney when Peter, your gentle voiced helicopter pilot, comes through the headphones, "Now, here I will show you something pretty neat that planes can't do." All motion ceases. There ensues not a sense of weightlessness, more that of being inside a snow globe somehow frozen in time at the apex of a fantastic upward trajectory. It is surprisingly serene. You breathe like an enlightened yogi, seeing in a new fashion. "Wow," comes 10 year old Ben's voice from the back. Wow indeed. Lucky- the word blips again and and again in my consciousness like a scratch across the entire surface of a vinyl record groove. Look at that beautiful park, where I will walk later the same day and wild cockatoos will swoop down on our shoulders and feed from our hands. Look at that beautiful opera house, where the next night I will see a terrific production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing with my kid sister. Lucky.
The pilot nudges the controls and the snow globe leans ahead. Within moments we are again cruising at 225 kilometers an hour, back over Bondi Beach, its elegant waves providing surfers rolling breaks, hour after hour, day after day, where even an old, foolish nerd can try his best on a 9 foot foam monstrosity and not feel the derision or disgust of the dexterous teens carving around him. Lucky. Notice what else, besides the youthful arrogance and posturing, is missing down on those white beaches. People! This perfect beach, minutes from downtown, even on a school holiday, and no madding crowds. Lucky. We touch back down at the airfield moments later. Here I am with kid sis.
With airplanes I have the overweening sense of the sheer torque it requires to hurl such a massive tube of steel and plastic aloft and keep it airborne. I both love and hate looking out the window on landing where it becomes abundantly clear just how irrational the prospect is of setting such tonnage back on earth at such an ungodly speed. My helicopter experience was the inverse, all ether and effortlessness, flow and facility. You simply move through space, dreamlike. I expected there to be far more noise and, well Apocalypse Now drama. Instead Peter touched at the pedals and joystick as if he were handling delicate relics in the hushed backrooms of a museum. His aim seemed to be to preserve the illusion of floating and moving sans jet engine and carbon fiber, and I would have to say he succeeded.
Lucky. Partly the refrain resulted from this trip's confluence with Cambodia, where the conditions were debased, the people desperate, the heat and humidity drowning. In the southern hemisphere, Australia is entering winter, which meant donning my Kelsey Sirois TJ Maxx sweater until late morning, and then stripping down to a tee shirt around noon. Delicious. The biggest city in the country but the air never fetid, the traffic (especially after Bangkok Gridlock- a great name for something by the way) perfectly manageable, and the parks numerous and lovely. Here we were walking in the same park shown in the top photo next to the Opera House and came across a family picnicking who had a scad of cockatoos eating out of their hands, posing on their shoulders, and garnering whoops of laughter. Best of all it was a large Muslim family, dressed in fairly traditional garb. We marveled together. Other families wandered in and out. The birds never crossed the Hitchcockian aggressive threshold, though one got a nice scream from sister Claire when it landed from behind as she was talking on her phone. Would it be so far fetched to wish for everywhere to be just this sparkling and balanced and forward thinking? I know Australia has its issues, definitely, which makes it seem all the more an attainable dream and less a utopia. An excellent health care system that includes both public and private options, an excellent university system that sends its graduates into the world with little or no debt, opportunities to make money, certainly, but also enough environmental awareness that a major effort by a coal mine can be turned back by grassroots groundwork. The lucky ones are the Australians themselves- no wonder so many of them are so fantastically generous, tolerant, and happy. I discovered on this trip that there are in fact only 20 million of these happy lucky souls, which accounts I am sure partly for their fortune. With 350 some odd million, we just have many more idiots in America. But far above the perks of landing in such a clean and cool environment, were the joys of being united and reunited with family. I say united because my trip to Bondi marked the beginning of my relationship with Sabine, my spectacular niece adopted recently from China. Pull out a thesaurus and string together all the words under fabulous and you won't begin to summarize her quality. So many variables leading her path to cross my sister's the mind turns to jelly in contemplation. To look at her is to dream a novel of a life already, and I spent much of my time in Australia pondering little Lei Lei, or Leizy, or Bean. One little girl living left on a concrete doorstep one day and another traveling along the concrete paths following Sydney's shores.
I could not help but recall the many children I encountered in Cambodia, and how whatever part nature takes in a life, nurture surely cannot be discounted. Absurdly, my sister and her husband had to work for years and years with the bureaucracies in China and Australia to be given this gift, and so many children literally litter the streets around the world, unclaimed. They had given up but then they got lucky. Like when exquisite birds come landing on your balcony, coming from who knows where, dressed in royal colors.
But the luckiest thing of all is to have a kid sister, someone who you can know and love yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Someone who will laugh at your jokes and maybe think you are a pretty cool guy even if you are not, who you can look out for and pray for and be happy as hell for when things are good. So I guess in that Benjamin and I got no complaints.