Friday, 4 March 2011

The Christchurch earthquakes ~ shock waves both within and without

Earthquakes occur in many forms, some in the natural world and others within us.  Some are public and obvious and others private and invisible - or nearly so.  When the Christchurch earthquakes came roaring to the surface they affected us in many ways.  Those living beyond the quake zone are not exempt. 

I left Christchurch years ago but it is the place where I was born and grew up.  I have family there, know people there, people who are dear to me.  I have mixed feelings about the years I lived there yet it is the place I come from, my point of origin, if you like.

The Maori people have a way of introducing themselves which describes where they come from and belong: they say which is their mountain, which is their stretch of water.  In these terms Mt Pleasant is still my mountain, and Pegasus Bay my stretch of water.  But how does one describe the sky?  Standing at the summit of any of the desolate tussock-covered hills of Banks Peninsula, one could easily imagine dinosaurs sleeping amidst their rounded folds; looking up into the biggest sky I've seen anywhere one feels that the sky is not so much the roof of the world, but an entry point to outer space.  Everywhere the views encompass great distance.  The majestic Southern Alps march peacefully along the horizon seeming far away.

Pegasus Bay blends with the Pacific to stretch to infinity on the other side.  Below, the city seems inconsequential.  Until you get there.

Christchurch has been a beautiful city set on the banks of gentle winding rivers, the Heathcote and the Avon, which merge in the ever-mutable Estuary beloved to us all.  The rivers and estuary remain, although dirty now, carrying human waste which has no where else to go - for the meantime.  Its heritage parks and walkways have suffered breakage and disruption but it is the old city buildings which crumbled, many proud landmarks, and many lesser ones, lying in dusty, crooked ruins.

The new will rise in their place.  I hope that time and care is taken in their design and construction, that human minds and hands can join in creating fresh beauty and mark the indomitable human spirit as they rise phoenix-like from spaces where so much has been lost.

For those who died in the disaster, so many beautiful and precious human souls, I give prayer, and thanks for your time in this world; time in which you inspired and gave companionship to those of us who live here yet.  I'm thinking especially of Paul Dunlop, to whom I have written a tribute already, and also of others who have been described in equally loving terms by so many relatives and friends.   

I think too of friends and family who patiently continue to live in the shattered city, doing what they can to lead normal lives in the face of disruption and breakage at every turn, and endure the continued shake and shudder of the earth beneath.  All strength to you, those who I know, and those who I don't.  My thanks to those who help both in big ways and small, a community drawing together both in grief and tenacity. 

Their grief and loss reminds me of my own, some in the past, some still with me: I know what it is to suffer sudden unexpected loss through death: my father died when I was growing up.  My sense of loss continues undiminished although it is decades old now.  I know what it is to be physically crushed: when I was a young girl I was struck by a car and lay pinned beneath it for at least half an hour.  It wasn't my fault.   I was lucky: although very nearly killed I survived.  Others haven't.  I know what it is to suffer major personal trauma, of which I have written  much in The Wasteland Chronicle.  Again, I survived, whereas others have not.  These memories are reawakened and my heart goes out to those in need. 

I want to pray, but how?  All good deeds of helping others are prayer in action.  But what of the  bruised and battered spirit, and of the cracked and broken ground itself?  I do not forget the shattered earth, its rupture and shock.  This too needs prayer.  It is the earth we walk on, and on which we seek our rest.

How do I pray?  What are the words?  After long blank emptiness I found my answer in a children's story from many years ago.  It is "The thirteen clocks" by James Thurber, adapted for radio by Peter Fieldson.  In its whimsy I found my truth.  Here we have a prince in disguise accompanied by the magical Gollox, well-intentioned but confused.  Together they set about rescuing the lovely Princess Saralinda from imprisonment by the Wicked Duke. Various spells as well as wickedness are in force and Time has been frozen.  All this has to be remedied if the Princess is to gain her freedom.  Here is what spoke to me so clearly:

The Prince: The coast is clear
Saralinda:   How could you find the castle in the dark?
                     He would not let me burn a torch.
Gollox:        You lighted up your window like a star
                     And we could see the castle from afar.
                     Come, our time is marked in minutes -
                     Start the clocks!
Saralinda:   He [the Prince] faces thirteen men and that is hard
Gollox:        We face thirteen clocks and that is harder
                     Start the clocks!
Saralinda:   How can I?
Gollox:        Your hand is warmer than the snow is cold
                     Touch the clocks with your hand.
Saralinda:   There!
Gollox:        Nothing has happened! We are ruined!
Saralinda:   Use magic!
Gollox:        I have no magic to depend on.
                     Try the other clock...
                     Oh, still nothing!!!
Saralinda:   Use logic then
Gollox:        Now, let me see...
          If you can touch the clocks and never start them,
          Then you can start the clocks and never touch them.
                     That's logic as I know and use it.
                     Hold your hand away...
                     And now closer...
                     Now a little further back...
                     I think you have it – Do not move!
~ we hear flapping ~
Saralinda:  What was that?
Gollox:       That was 'Then' leaving the Castle to die
Saralinda:  So 'Then' is dead. It's NOW!
~ we hear the sound of multiple clocks beginning to tick ~

And so I hold my hands up to Christchurch, to the people, to the buildings, to the land, rivers and the sky.  I feel your pain in the reflection of my own.  To have compassion means to suffer with.  I know.  I know.  Not exactly, for that is unknowable, but in the depth of need and feeling.

Each day in small practical ways we move forward.  Rise up Christchurch, rise up, kia kaha, strength to you all.

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

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