Appreciate the special moments - and special people

2017 started in something of a zen-like zone for me – returning from a blissful five-day yoga retreat in the Coromandel had me feeling this unfamiliar sensation of being both relaxed and focused.

As someone who had never really done yoga before, excepting that time in my 20s when I had to leave my first class with a case of the giggles, never to return again, it was a wonderful experience. Turns out I can quiet my busy mind and meditate – it was amazing and liberating to enjoy the peace.

While away, I thought of friends who had told me how much they enjoyed yoga and the benefits they got from meditation, including fellow columnist Chris Cresswell, realising I should have listened to them earlier!

Then the news of Chris’ tragic death on New Year’s Eve hit and my tranquil buzz was blasted away.  How could the universe be so unfair? How could one moment I feel so good and sure of life only to be slapped in the face with what must be a sick lie.

I flashed back to a quote shared at the retreat, from US author L R Knost: “Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it's breathtakingly beautiful.”

Chris, the emergency doctor and advocate for holistic healing, the much loved husband, father, brother and son, the proud Green Party member and passionate activist, the generous friend to many, and the person helping weave together Maori and Pakeha in Whanganui – how could he be gone? But it is true, and today is his send-off at Paakaitore. I know it will be spectacular and in fitting with how he lived his life.

Another quote, this time from Oscar Wilde: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Chris lived big. He was only 49 but had fitted in so much, with a remarkably joyful and fun approach to life.

For me, Chris and I were only starting what I thought was to be a lifelong friendship. We first met at the climate change march he helped organise in 2015 – I remember him quoting Dr Seuss’ The Lorax then, one of my favourites too: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Last year, he nicknamed me “our favourite Lorax” and hosted my election celebration at his home.

Sharing this column space with him and making plans for the Greens’ election year campaign were our connections. While I feel desperately sad for his family who lose the irreplaceable, I also recognise a deep loss in the environmental and justice movements in New Zealand and beyond.

So 2016 won’t just be the year that we lost a cluster of global celebrities, with George Michael and Carrie Fisher adding to the toll in late December. However talented, the loss of these actors and musicians pale away when compared with the loss of such incredible, grounded humans as Chris and, early in 2016, Judith Timpany, another big-hearted community advocate who made a real difference for Whanganui.

There’s a few things I’m going to work on in 2017, inspired in part by Chris – and Judith too. The first is care for my vegetable garden. I may be a Greenie at heart but it has not (yet) transferred into my thumb. However, the yoga retreat had the tastiest fresh vegetarian food, which I started missing straightaway, so into the garden I go.

The second thing is to get on my bike more often. Now my youngest has ditched the training wheels, I’m looking forward to family biking outings and even trying the bike ride across town to school.

The little things we do add up, whether actions for the environment, prioritising time with family and friends or combining both. Enjoy the moments – we don’t know how long we’ve got.