When Red & Black Heartbreak Strikes
A week ago, the proud city of Christchurch, New Zealand that my great-great grandfather helped to settle in the 1800s, and where my family have been born and resided in for generations (myself included) had its heart torn out, its humble, yet staunch resolve quite literally shaken, and its treasured structures, quite literally, torn apart, following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake aftershock.
Now, as I write this, my California-based family is still sitting, waiting and hoping for news of a relative who hasn’t been heard from since that quake on President’s Day, U.S. time. It is agonizing living and re-living this greatest of New Zealand’s natural disasters from so very far away. Thank-goodness for the Google App-Christchurch Earthquake People Finder, developed during the aftermath of the recent Haiti quake, together with Facebook status updates. Having seen photographs and unedited video footage of some of the aftermath of damaged structures, it’s now extremely clear to my husband, as well as to myself, that had I been still working and residing in Christchurch, this time a week ago, that I wouldn’t have stood a chance of surviving this latest quake. That’s probably me being optimistic, from someone who’s generally regarded as being an eternal optimist. Others of my relatives and friends who found themselves in and around Christchurch that awful lunch-hour, clung on to whatever they could. Structures. Steering wheels. In its immediate aftermath, some of them eventually made it out of the city on the ‘air-bridge’ being run by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, from Christchurch to Wellington, using RNZAF Hercules C-130 transport aircraft, and who frantically texted anyone and everyone they could contact, in the moments, hours and days that have since followed. Still others I know, simply got into their cars and drove North. Anywhere but sitting put for that first, haunting night afterwards.
My local NBC affiliate television news channel came out and interviewed my family and myself, at home, several days after this horrible news broke. I was far from being at my best. Troubled by asthma that’s since flared up and been exacerbated by sleeplessness and nervousness. In a depressive phase that some call a form of ‘survivor’s guilt’. The local network's youthful, yet otherwise oblivious reporter tried to play the heavily emotive angle. I didn’t buy into it. Hyperbole and over-generalization isn’t a welcomed part of the Kiwi psyche, nor coping style. I’ve wailed, I’ve cried-and there will likely be more moments when I feel immeasurable guilt. That’s grief, and we all cope with it in the ways that are individual and unique to us.
In 2008, my toddler daughter and husband climbed to the top of the spire of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral in Cathedral Square in central Christchurch. Before they ascended the narrow, winding stone stairs-100+ of them to the top, they were warned that the structure wasn’t regarded as being particularly structurally safe. The photos posted below are from that ‘adventure’. Although she was only three at the time, my daughter still fondly remembers what it was like, taking in the spectacular view of the modern city, from that majestic, landmark church. Yesterday, we broke down, as we heard the account of an eyewitness to the quake’s immediate aftermath in Cathedral Square, who said that he saw at least four bodies, together with a tangled mass of smashed human limbs, hurling from atop of that affectionately admired vantage point. It all still beggars belief. Everything about that city-my city-is seriously munted. ‘Munted’ is a colloquial Kiwi expression that usually refers to something being badly broken.
The tiny, centrally-located apartment that we shared with my brother on our last trip to Christchurch, is now completely destroyed. Collapsed in on itself. An office where I volunteered has been seemingly peeled apart by an inquisitive, unforgiving giant. Its ghost-like curtains still flutter at shattered windows, its furniture tossed aside in doll-house abandonment, for all and any to see, from the street. The streets where I once walked and resided from have liquefied; filled with grey, black, silty, sandy, sludgy s**t, that now coats every new and old crevice and shattered surface. 180,000 tons of it, no less.
Even now, the as the seemingly unrelenting aftershocks continue, and while I am remaining cautiously optimistic, I have to wonder when my precious birthplace will ever quit trembling. Settle down enough to be re-claimed and re-settled.
Red and black are the provincial colors of the Canterbury region, and of Christchurch. Worn and displayed with measurable pride and resilience. Some say that the red speaks to the true heart of who we Canterbury people are. Black for standing tall, in the face of whatever adversity comes calling. Now, more than ever, we celebrate and cling to those symbolic, unifying hues. Kia Kaha, Christchurch!.
PicCredit: SG's Private Collection (August, 2008).