It’s strange how life can be completely normal one moment and then suddenly everything can change in seconds: damage inflicted in less than a minute can be fatal, irreparable, profound.
It’s as if you are in the depths of a horrible nightmare: if you woke up sweating and shaking to find that it wasn’t real it would be a welcome relief, a weight off your shoulders and the pain in your heart would heal and you’d be whole again.
This senerio happens in life on a daily basis… to somone, somewhere in the world all the time, ….maybe as the result of a road accident, death or near death of a loved one or the worst possible medical disgnosis.
When it happens on an individual level, it’s like life slows down and things start to happen in slow motion but moves at normal place for everyone else.
They don’t feel your pain, they don’t understand your limbo, your sense of time being suspended and your uncertainlty as events bigger than you can handle envelope you. So many questions, so few answers, how do you find the strength to go on?
In your heightened state of emotion, fear, resolution and pain, you start relying on auto-pilot to help you go through the necessary motions back to normal life.
Its like skiddling unexpectedly off the road and finding yourself dazed and bruised in the gravel, you need time to heal, recover , repair and return to where you left off. ‘
Hopefully someone will extend a helpful hand for you to hold, a shoulder to cry on and a strong arm to wrap you in when the darkest moments of recovery are upon you.
When this sudden spiral out of “normal life” happens on a collective level rather than on an individual level, as in the case of a natural disaster, things take an altogether different turn.
In this case less than a single minute of shaking turned a city upside down, it took lives, limbs, annihilated life plans, jobs, possessions, dreams.
You hope that it’s a bad dream you can wake up from but each morning you are reminded that this IS the new reality that you are going to learn to live with.
Some people rise to this new situation, they find inside themselves an almost super-human strength that they never knew they had: on February 22nd they took charge, got to work, stood strong, gave comfort, fed or took in strangers, became leaders, carers and beaons of hope.
Others were not so strong: damage, berievement, age, loss, fear, nerves, character, shock… whatever the reason, they were in position where they needed more help than they could offer and, as is probably statistically usual when counting large numbers in a collective group, some tried to help themselves more than others too.
Everyone has a different reaction to situations of deep and dire stress, when events over-run us on a personal level there is usually someone on the ‘outside’ when can reach in and lend a steadying hand.
When everyone else around you is also in this deep level of stress it can be so much harder to see where to go next, what’s possible, which way is up, how to battle the tears and emotions.
Christchurch City was trust into a crisis where as the enormity of the situation unfolded was akin like one shock wave hitting after another… there’s been a massive earthquake, buildings are down, people are trapped, people have died, whole neighbourhoods are damaged, hillsides and cliffs have fallen, houses beyond repair… and the sickening sense that gathers in your stomach as each piece of information comes in, is a feeling I never want to ever feel again.
The minutes spent dialing telephome numbers of loved ones with quivering hands and the seeming eternity it takes between each dial tone are some of the longest minutes of your life… you know that large parts of the phone network is down but you try anyway.
Eventually someone of the other end of the line answers as the connection is finially successful, and together in shaking voices and tears the relief is audible, tangible, enveloping.
We quickly discover that even with some 14 attempts per call, that my chances of getting though to Christchurch from the Netherlands are still higher than their local calls across the city, so I try and phone as many people as possible, passing on messages and relaying information that loved ones are safe.
Some, try as we might, we can’t contact and the heavy sick feeling remains until we finially make contact.
We are glued to the television as footage unfolds and the internet for as many live updates as we can get our hands on.
News crews from around the world flock to the scene as fast as resucue services from abroad, some are factual, some are sensationalistic, some have facts and more have more speculation than facts.
After a few days once it’s been determined that no more survivors will be found or, if a bigger more urgent crisis is unfolding somewhere else around the world, attention is diverted and the news teams pack up their gear and move on.
Christchurch evaporates from the spotlight on the world stage and is left to start the long road of recovery alone.
But it is not completely alone, New Zealanders far and wide rally together, bonds of solidarity are formed, fundraising and support services are started, friends, relatives, neighbours, complete strangers are welcomed into homes inside Christchurch, from within the region and nationwide.
Busses and trucks arrive with food, clothes, home baking for people who are without electricy and who have had to evaculate their homes in only the clothes they stood up in.
Stories emerge that show people from one extreme to the other, from utter selflessnessness, selfishness and everything inbetween… but more often than not people rise above their own needs and wants and heartwarming accounts of “heros” in every shape, form and age come to light time and time again. Faith in human nature is restored as you hear account after account of people who waste no opportunity to give… and wow, they gave.
Some people are steadfast that they will never leave the city, some do leave and some wish they could, everyone makes the best of the new reality that means closed or broken roads, damages houses, liquafaction, closed businesses and workplaces or tempory premises and work-around situations that are often less than ideal.
Today is one year to the day that Christchurch city had it’s heart torn open… the wounds are still raw, the recovery process is steady but slow, the pain is still close to the surface whenever certain emotional buttons are pushed.
For some this day is especially dark, in an instant they lost loved ones in terrible circumstances and their journey back to normalicy of any sort, is a road that we hope we ourselves will never have the misfortune to travel.
One thing is clear, and to which I can also attest to on Dec 23rd 2011, is when the ground is moving and everything around you is shaking, not one non-fration of your mind is busy thinking about possessions we own, we think only of the living breathing treasures that are irreplaceable, our children, spouses, friends, people we love.
The Christchurch earthquakes have helped people redefine who they are and what they want from life, February 22nd 2011 was a wake-up-call of the worst kind… a searing reminder that you only have today, time is limited, use it well, loved ones are the most precious thing you have, and this life is not the practice run.
Christchurch and many of it’s inhabitants will spend today, along with all New Zealanders both at home and abroad, pausing at 12.51 pm and reflecting on this day, one year ago and one year on…
I may well live far away, but my heart and thoughts are today firmly “at home” in Christchurch.
Victims that the quake took came not only from New Zealand but also from abroad, my thoughts are with all the families of those who have had their lives forever changed by their loss or their injuries, both near and far.
I love and mourn the loss of my city, but that is nothing compared with the loss or injuries these people are still coming to terms with one year on.
I can only wish us all strength together for the long road ahead…