I spent my first public crying session surrounded by strangers in Australia—but also by adorable marsupials at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
Last year, I went through a bad breakup, followed by a friends-with-benefits situation that got emotionally out of hand for me, followed by a string of bad dates and disappointments. (Lots of disappointments.) Needless to say, my romantic life was kind of a dumpster fire, which, coupled with my all-time-high anxiety levels, led me to make some bad decisions. Though I managed to outwardly appear “with it,” on the inside? Not so much. So when I had the opportunity to escape the country and go down under to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, I could not have met the situation with a more enthusiastic yes. I needed a break.
My most enduring goal for the trip was to see a koala bear, and I was in luck: 12 kilometers from Brisbane is a place called the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It was founded in 1927 to help injured, sick, and orphaned koalas and is now is home to about 130 of these cute marsupials, plus other native Australian animals, like kangaroos. The spot is accredited by Eco Tourism Australia and the Zoo Aquarium Association, which basically means it’s independently audited to ensure the welfare of the animals and ecologically sustainable practices. There’s also a science and research facility on the property that assists with conservation efforts.
When the day came to visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, I was nearly exploding with excitement; the pure kind of bliss that’s not tinged with fear or nerves. I painstakingly chose my outfit for the day, because…I wanted to impress the koalas? I don’t know; this is just what excitement looks like for me. I settled on a black-and-white polka-dot wrap dress, plus a vintage leather jacket and sneakers—which would have been a perfectly acceptable outfit, except that it was uncharacteristically windy and my dress was short and flowy, meaning I had to tie my leather jacket around my waist to keep from flashing everyone (and the koalas). I looked a touch ridiculous, but I didn’t even care.
I walked into the sanctuary in my once-cute, now-bizarre outfit with palpable elation—and there have been exactly zero previous incidents in my life for which I would describe my elation level as “palpable.” The pathway leading to the koalas remains a blur in my memory. I was a woman on a mission, and that mission was to see as many of the cuddly friends as I could. I stepped into the koala area, took a look at one sleeping, smushed in a tree, and promptly burst into tears in front of a bunch of strangers.
The tour guide told me that I wasn’t the first person to do this, but I think she may have been trying to make me feel better. I certainly didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction, but as I wandered around, looking at all of the koalas, taking pictures, my stream of tears continued to flow. Coming face-to-face with this type of animal I’d previously only seen on my television screen was, in a word, magical. But, in a few more words, it was so much more.
Not only was this my first public cry, but because I don’t even tear up in front of people I know, you can rest assured that breaking the blubbering seal in front of strangers felt extra extreme. But that these were happy tears made me calm me through my cries: As I looked at these koalas, thus fulfilling an adorable goal of mine, I felt joy. And that emotion—sensation, really—was one I hadn’t felt in quite some time. The experience awakened a part of me that had been dormant for too long: the part that could feel wonder and happiness, not tainted with anything negative. And I had forgotten what that felt like, which is something I resolved to not do again. So rather than contain my tears in an effort to get a hold of my emotions, I just let myself feel.
I wandered into the gift shop on my way out to pick up a souvenir. In my verklempt state, I hastily chose a shirt. When I pulled it out of the bag later in my hotel room, I realized it was emblazoned with a kangaroo, not a koala, but I’ll nonetheless treasure it and the memory forever.
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