Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Thursday, I was in normal old Seattle. Fourteen hours—just half a day—later, and I’m in, like, this whole ‘nother country on the other side of the globe: the sort of country you read about in books when you were a little kid! Australia is this slightly unreal place were kangaroos don’t live in zoos but just bounce around loose! They grow platypuses and koalas and wallaroos here! And Tasmanian Devils! The plants are completely different (except for gum tree, we have those in Seattle). The birds? They have budgies and cockatoos just flying around down here wild! And everybody drives on the wrong side of the road and sits on the wrong side of the car to do it! And the weather is like July in February! And the sun beating down on you is in the wrong part of the sky! At night, all the stars are strange, as though you are on another planet! That’s freakin’ Alpha Centauri up there! And the Southern Cross! It’s right there on the Aussie flag, which is by the way, the Not American flag that is flying everywhere I normally see the Stars and Stripes because, you know, I’m in this whole ‘nother country… in a whole ‘nother eastern hemisphere… and a whole ‘nother Southern hemisphere! I’m in Australia! You know: where they used to bring prisoners on sailing ships. It’s the sort of place where you start a novel full of adventure on the high seas!
When I was a kid I was little George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. The most exciting sounds in the world were plane engines, boat anchors and train whistles—especially the aching and exhilarating train whistles. I wanted to hit the road and see the great wide world! And now, thanks be to God, I get a little chance to do it.
But here’s the funny thing: When I come to Australia, people treat me as the exotic one. I talk funny. My flat American accent prompts questions about where I’m from and people get all wistful and, well, romantic with that faraway look of the traveler wannabe. If only they could see the exciting and romantic land of Seattle, with its ferries on Puget Sound and the cool mists over the waters with the snowy peaks of the Olympics jutting up jagged and shell pink in the dawn! How wonderful to be able to see Mt. Rainier, or visit the beautiful San Juan Islands, to eat the salmon and hear the stories of the native Americans and the settlers and to see the Museum of Flight and the Science Fiction Museum and walk the waterfront and see Pike Place Market.
How exciting and wonderful it must be to live there!
And I suddenly realize that I live in a wonderful foreign land. Makes me want to travel there and see it for the first time with new eyes.