When The Worst Thing Happens

Today at 1.32pm I sat on a folding chair on our sunny “porch” of shipping pallets and shared the national two minutes of silence for the 50 fellow Kiwis murdered exactly a week earlier in two Christchurch mosques.

Halfway through those two minutes, Phoebe trotted up to me so I picked her up and cuddled her in the early-autumn sun.

At 1.34 I headed back inside.

I am lucky in having a safe, peaceful life in the country where I was born. I am lucky to have a beautiful little house in a green field, and a husband who loves me. I am lucky to be alive.

One week ago, at 1.32pm, I was lying on the couch reading The Martian by Andy Weir. So safe and peaceful, with the dogs lying next to me. It was a day like today — fine and warm.

Less than an hour later, taking a break from The Martian, I started reading about the Christchurch attack. I kept the radio on for the rest of the day as wobbly-voiced Radio NZ reporters tried to describe the scene they’d rushed into. One reporter mentioned a grieving woman at one of the mosques, saying she was “[pause] pretty unhappy” — an obvious understatement that made my blood run cold.

When Jacinda Ardern’s press conference came on and she said there were 40 victims, my jaw fell open.

Then the number was 49, then 50.

Figuratively, my jaw hasn’t shut yet. I’ve been reading everything I can, not to make sense of the massacre, which I know isn’t possible, but to try to understand what happened and find some piece of commentary that would strike a chord and bring my thoughts into a semblance of order.

Tom and I have talked about it a lot. But on Sunday I told him, “I can’t think about this anymore.”

After a break of two hours I was back to it. Thinking is my addiction.

It All Happened Because Of A, Or B, Or C…

I’ve seen and heard lots of responses to the massacre. I think they’ve all been about people trying to feel less pain; to pull the enormity towards their comfort zone a bit; to fit it into the narrative they find easiest to believe; to not feel as though their legs have been kicked out of under them; to warm themselves with proud, protesting phrases like “This is not who we are!”

I suppose this is part of healing — the body rejecting the foreign object, turning its energies into fighting off the cause of the pain, trying to return to its previous state.

Though I’m trying to order my thoughts and understand this event better, I’m trying to resist coming to a comfortable stop of the kind I see other people, apparently, coming to.

It’s a similar process to dealing with the early news reports of the attacks. I knew there’d be a fog of war, a blizzard of hearsay. In that first hour there were reports that Christchurch Hospital had been attacked, that there’d been at least six targets, and goodness knows what else. I ignored it all and waited for a more reliable and authoritative source, like the prime minister.

Likewise, I’m distrusting anyone who has tried to sum up the horror with cliches or memes or side issues or catalogues of the blameworthy, though I understand where they all come from. More time will bring more information, more understanding.

The Darkest Day

This is the worst thing to happen in New Zealand in my lifetime.

I can remember disasters in which more people died. But those were unintended tragedies — a ferry sinking in a storm, a snow-shrouded plane crashing into a mountain, an earthquake flattening a city.

This was different — it was someone’s idea. What on earth can you do with that knowledge?

Makahuri villagers on the train, wearing white as vigil attenders were asked to do.

On Sunday, nine of us from Makahuri caught the train to Wellington and a bus to the Basin Reserve cricket stadium attend a “vigil” for the dead. Travel was free for the night, to allow people to get there.

It was a gorgeous, cloudless evening. On the rotunda, sunglassed members of the NZ Symphony orchestra played Elgar and Barber. We sat on perfect cricket-pitch grass.

There were speeches, some of which helped me settle my thoughts. But at that stage it still felt as though the attacks had happened in some other country.

No, it happened here. In blameless New Zealand.

4 thoughts on “When The Worst Thing Happens

  1. You and I are old enough to remember the 1970’s, when Joe Hawke and Ngati Whatua told our generation of young pakeha NZers a story that we’d never been told before. We’re older now and wiser and perhaps this atrocity is a story that a younger generation of New Zealanders had never been told before, or at least from quite this perspective. The Imam today caught that nicely, I thought, with his prayer that in the blood spilled were planted seeds of hope. The PM, God bless and keep her, appears to have instinctively grasped that this may – and must – be turned into a new chapter. 50 human lives is an unbearably high price to pay for hope and wisdom but we have been forced to pay it. We must hope for the wisdom to move on to a better, kinder place. Success in doing so is the only way to atone for he who committed the unspeakable, in our name.

    Fond thoughts to you and Tom.

    Steve

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing. The New Zealander’s killed were certainly blameless and that’s the most tragic thing of all. It’s awful that many were refugees who had fled violence only to find it here.

    It still feels unreal. It was good to see so many people at the Wellington vigil even though it still didn’t feel like enough of a response but I’m not sure what would be.

    It’s good to remember most people are not like the evil person who did this act. I hope we can somehow prevent it ever happening again through communication, respect and love.

    Liked by 1 person

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