-This was originally written after a particularly crappy and yet brilliant day at my old work, at the Red Cross, helping get emergency grants paid to people after the Christchurch earthquake. I'm re-posting it because a lot of people appreciated it the first time around and I hope that more people will gain something from it now that it's in a more accessible place.-
Today was a weird day. I spent the day (not abnormally of late) handing out money as fast as I could to people who by and large, REALLY NEED IT. Most days it's a fantastic job. Today it was harder than average, but better than average. But today reminded me that there is good everywhere.
I think we've forgotten, or maybe we never realised, how damn LUCKY we were that day. I don't mean to make light of the terrible individual tragedies Christchurch suffered on the 22nd of February. I mean collectively, DAMN LUCKY. 12.51pm February 22nd 2011. Just think for a moment, if it had happened an hour and a half earlier or later. People were out of their buildings at lunch. It was a nice day, people were outside. School kids were outside eating. Playing. 90 minutes either way and people would have been back at work. Kids would have been back at their desks.
It was one of those slow starters, we had time to think 'another aftershock' and prepare ourselves. And it was ANOTHER aftershock. We had had so many by then we didn't panic nearly as much as we could have. Imagine if February had been the first one? We had some idea what to do. People knew if they were in a safe place they should stay put, and if they weren't they should get out. People who weren't freaking out stopped to assist the people that were. As the dust began to settle people immediately began to help were they could. I am so very proud of what so many of my fellow citizens did that day. And in the days that followed. Dark days they were, but filled with a constant reminder that humanity can be pretty together when it needs to be.
Before the Dust Settled
Photograph taken seconds after the February 22nd 2011 Earthquake
Credit: Gillian Needham.
People thought I was pretty together that day. Because as soon as the shaking stopped I emailed my sisters (I was well aware that the media liked to go freaking crazy very quickly) to let them know I was OK and on my way to find Kitty. When I got to Kitty's school people wanted to know what was in my pack. My big first aid kit, and my laptop. Apparently this represents organised. I just wasn't sure what I was going to find out there. I knew I would be passing the house of a friend, and I knew that house had not fared well in September's excitement. My backpack already had miscellaneous stuff in it 'just in case' and it was already by the front door. I grabbed what I grabbed because I didn't want to be unprepared. BUT before September, would I have thought of any of that stuff? Probably not. And I DID NOT FEEL IN THE LEAST BIT TOGETHER. I was freaking right out. My primary concern was getting to my kid and making sure she was ok. That included being prepared to deal with the situation if it was SHITTY.
As the news began to roll in of buildings falling and roads buckling, a feeling of silent horror began to descend. People simply could not believe what was happening. I don't know what it felt like on the east side of the city, where so much of the damage had occured. Different I bet. Much worse in many ways too. Most ways probably, I can't even pretend to understand how horrible it must have been, the sound of buildings breaking. The fear for your life. On the west side it was different. There wasn't very much damage, and the sense that so much had happened in other parts of the city was surreal. Hard to come to grips with. Hard to believe.
BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH MUCH WORSE.
People have expressed anger over building failures, and the slowness of the rescue efforts. Not very oddly, not so much of that complaining came from within Christchurch. We knew that that 'only a 6.3' was not only a 6.3. I remember standing in the doorframe of my kitchen as my house rocked around me, absolutely SURE this was worse than Septembers 7.1. I remember my shock when the number was announced. I think it's a miracle more structures didn't fall.
I lost a friend that day. I hadn't seen him for ages, but you people all know how I am. Once in my heart, always in my heart. His death was a shock to me. He died on the hills, in a rockfall on his way home after the main shock. If he hadn't stopped to ferry so many people who were on foot up the hill he'd be alive now. But the truth of the matter is he wouldn't be the man that the boy I knew so well grew into if he hadn't stopped for those people. He could not have done anything else.
He is a beacon of hope, like so many others were that day. Those who stopped and helped the people around them. Those that didn't hesitate to start lifting rubble from the smaller fallen buildings. Those who went out into their neighbourhoods to check on the people around them. Those who followed the words of the council and STAYED INSIDE if they didn't have anything specific to be doing. Every smallest act of kindness, every smallest act of bravery. Every smallest act of common sense. These all worked together to hold us all in one piece. Every tongue held because we all knew we were on the edge of boiling point.
Each and everyone of us that could have been a selfish wanker but chose instead to join together and help. We are all beacons of hope. And every little counts.
We have a long way to go. We are still a broken city, but we are on the mend. And for the most part people want to be a part of that. Most people want to help where they can. I am astonished every day by the random generosity of people. Whether it's the odd little donations of things that are dropped into the office 'for people who lost more than we did' or the person that I have to talk into taking a grant they're entitled to because 'there are people worse off than us'. Seriously, their house is falling apart around their ears and they don't want to take our money because someone else might need it more. It's so sweet and sad it's funny. And I hear it all the time. 'Oh no dear, we're not too bad really'. Your house floods every time it rains you say?
People. Can be awesome.
*I think I hate the "beacons of hope" BTW, the idea was there but it's copycatting and it wasn't really the morale boost those that are losing hope needed.
Here they are for those of you who have no clue what these silly beacons are. Best photo I've seen of them, taken by a friend :)