I’m interrupting my retrospective series of posts of our October 2012 trip to Greece because today has been a special day in The Netherlands.
Special for all the wrong reasons, special because we welcomed home the first of the victims of Malaysian Airways Flight 17.
There were no tears of joy at this reunion, it was a home-coming no-one would ever wish for, and yet, as church bells tolled the length and breath of the country, as citizens fell silent at an appointment time as a mark of respect, as all public transport stood still, the nations courts suspended their business to observe, as workers and passengers at Schipol airport stood silent, as aircraft kept in holding patterns and did not land or take off during this time, as the nations work places, businesses, shopping streets, people at home and people at play stopped what they were doing and became totally still, our tears joined a nation as one, as we tried to give back the respect and dignity that was despicably taken away from the victims over the skies and on the ground of Russian controlled Ukraine.
The flag on the little flagpole of our home stood a half mast, along with others in the street, neighbourhoods all over the country and on every public building in The Netherlands. We wanted to send a message to all of the families and friends of all of the victims that they were not alone.
We wanted to send a message that our thoughts were with them, that our tears were because we cared and because we could find no other way to start to imagine their pain. Windmills around the country were set with their sails titled to the right, a sign of mourning, radio and television stations suspended all advertisements, and hundreds of thousands lined the route that the sad column of forty hearses made their down, accompanied by a police motorcycles and a motorcade of motocycle Koninklijke Marechaussee (Royal Military Constabulary).
Two military planes landed in a military base in Eindhoven. The small of the two planes was Dutch, the far larger Australian. Almost one thousand family members attended but by arrangement their presence was not televised by any media present as a mark of respect. A lone soldier played a bugle as the plane doors opened and then a nationwide minute silence ensued. The Military removed the coffins one by one with a great deal of respect and care. Nothing was rushed. If respect would be tangible then it was tangible, It was moving, quiet, reserved and dignified in a way that we can only hope went some way to replacing the indignity that these innocent passengers had been subjected to in the last week.
The feeling of pain was also tangible, even seasoned soldiers looked like they were working hard to overcome emotions. Parts of two motorways were closed to allow the long line of hearses to travel to a military base in Hilversum. People lined the route en mass, motorway overpasses and hard shoulders were crowded with ordinary citizens who wanted to show their respect. In some places the motorways were strewn with flowers.
In Hilversum the terrible task of identification awaits. According to Dutch news reports 85 Dutch forensic experts were already present, international experts joining them or en route are said to bump the total up to approximately 150.
This evening, in cities all around the Netherlands a “stille tocht” (silent vigils) took place. People dressed in white as a sign of peace and later let off white balloons. How many thousands attended I do not know, but it was tens of thousands at the very least.
I have stood in silence, I have followed the day’s proceedings from start to finish on TV. I have cried tears for strangers I did not know, but who could have so easily been someone I knew. One family were a good friends of my physiotherapist, the children lost, went to school with her daughters. I have two passports, New Zealand and Dutch, there was a New Zealander amongst the victims and many Dutch.
It doesn’t matter if I knew them personally or not, or what nationality they are, these are fellow human beings: children, infants, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandparents, and what has been done to them was not decent or deserved. Their family’s need to know that whilst I can not begin to image their pain, I can show a mark of respect to try and show my solitary and support in their darkest hour.
Today brings more flights, and Friday too and I will do it all again. The only way balance the disrespect that has been shown to these victims in Ukraine is to balance it, nay cancel it out by sheer force of overwhelming support, to cry at the loss , to lay flowers, to show respect and to let the family’s know that people, the Dutch people definitely care.
These are special days. Special for all the wrong reasons, but I am proud to be Dutch, I am proud to be an International citizen and I am proud of my fellow Dutch for their tough spirit that sends a message that decency should win over indecency, that dignity should be restored and that sorrow should be shared.