By Stan Stewart, owner of The Mercury Bay Informer with his wife, Pauline
Searching for Shangri-La
On a personal note, I am still in Brisbane supporting our son, Walker, as he battles creeping paralysis which has now overtaken his body from the chest down.
Shangri-La is defined as a remote, beautiful, imaginary place where life approaches perfection.
My guess is that many would apply that title to Mercury Bay. Millions in Europe and the Americas would love to pull up stakes and escape to Whitianga, this beautiful, peaceful, friendly coastal town with the permanent feeling of “holiday”. Here, the turmoil and tensions in other parts of the world could be blocked by the hills that surround Mercury Bay or thwarted by the ocean playground stretching out beyond the Bay. Really?
The rich and famous escape to their own versions of Shangri-La - the Bahamas, the Maldives - or they manufacture their own creation of a perfect world on a superyacht.
Actually, I don’t think Shangri-La exists or can ever exist. Suppose you could create your “perfect” world, the problem is you would still be left with “you” and face it, “you are the problem”.
Years ago, when Pauline and I took a children’s choir from Sydney to tour in the USA, we visited Sun City, Arizona. This was a huge gated community with a population of 39,000. It was promoted as the perfect place for the good life for people 55 and over, lovely homes and wonderful facilities surrounded by perfect gardens, and 24-hour protection by armed security personnel. Sun City was advertised as the place where seniors could kick back and live a carefree life, a kind of Shangri-La for seniors.
Our children’s choir received rapturous applause. Following the performance, a lunch was provided. The seniors in groups of four to six were seated around tables. The idea was that each table would have a child from the choir sit with them. But there were too many seniors and not enough children. To my surprise and to the children’s bewilderment, the seniors pushed and shoved each other to secure a child for their table.
Travelling on the bus on the way back to our accommodation, the children talked about what happened at their tables. Some seniors gave the children money. “We didn’t ask for it”, the children were quick to say. Others talked of seniors “crying” when they looked at them. The Sun City Shangri-La was clearly lacking something that money could not buy - humanity, in all its shades and nuances.
I am so happy that in marvellous Mercury Bay, we have children and babies and teenagers, and the full range of adults. I fully realise that to live on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula is a privilege given to very few in our troubled world. But for me, I don’t want to sit back and enjoy, and forget about the rest of the world and its problems. I am hoping that living in our privileged place will help me to become more caring to those around me and more compassionate towards the wider world in its complexity and problems. Can I pull this off? I will be working at it.
An addendum - there are no easy solutions or formulas to apply, but I found the president’s message in the current issue of The Angler, the monthly newsletter of the Whitianga Lions Club (sent to The Informer), a hopeful and healing alternative to searching for Shangri-La.
I quote some of the message of Leighton Duerre (the president), reflecting on his year of presidency.
“…what a strange year it has been. Not just for us, but for the whole world in general. Perhaps we might have anticipated some… of the disruption caused by the ongoing Covid pandemic, but few of us would have foreseen things like the worsening economy, the war in Ukraine or the supply chain issues worldwide related to those events. With all that is going on, it is easy to become sidetracked or disillusioned.
“But when you think about it, [the Lions’] major function hasn’t changed. The primary activity of “we serve” hasn’t changed. The way we accomplish that goal may need to be altered, but at the core we continue to do what we always have - serve our local community.”