There are some events that leave such an impression on us that we always remember where we were and what we were doing when we first learned of them. I remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001. I remember when Princess Diana died. And I will forever remember 22 February 2011, the day the world shook for Christchurch and everything came crumbling down.
I was having lunch with some visiting MPs from the United Kingdom when word first came through that there had been another earthquake in Christchurch. Things moved pretty quickly after that. Parliamentary Question Time was cancelled, replaced by brief statements from party leaders, and Parliament then adjourned as Christchurch MPs, most of whom had only arrived in Wellington that morning for the week’s business, frantically tried to get home to be with their loved ones and their local communities in their hour of need.
Concentrating on anything else was pretty difficult for the next few days as we were all bombarded with the shocking images coming across our screens and through our newspapers. Watching as firemen helped a woman off the roof of the Pyne Gould building, I looked at the twisted, flattened wreckage and couldn’t quite fathom what I was seeing. This sort of thing happens to other people, not to us, not to New Zealanders.
A few short weeks later the earth rumbled once more, this time across the sea in Japan, where one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded wreaked havoc, only to then be overshadowed by the massive tsunami it had generated. Once again we all found ourselves glued to the TV, watching as buildings, cars, and people were swept away and lives were thrown into turmoil.
The world feels a very uncertain place at the moment. But there is one thing that we can be sure of. When the chips are down, we pull together. When disaster hit Christchurch, the Japanese Search and Rescue teams were among the first to arrive. Weeks later, their Kiwi counterparts were boarding planes to Japan to return the favour.
Every day I’m hearing heartening stories from Christchurch about how well the community has pulled together to look after one another. I was speaking to a Wellingtonian the other day who had gone down to check on his elderly father. On the way from his father’s place back to the airport he was telling the taxi driver how worried he was about leaving his Dad there by himself. That taxi driver has called on his father every day since then to check he’s OK and drive him to the supermarket to get food or to fill up his water bottles. He’s been doing it free of charge, going out of his way to help someone he doesn’t even know.
Adversity brings out the best in humanity. Buildings crumble, power lines are broken, houses and treasured possessions are washed away, but the human spirit lives on. The people of Christchurch and Japan are going through hell. So are the people on the West Coast who have lost loved ones in the Pike River tragedy.
At times like these, we all remember what is important. It’s not our material possessions, but the people around us who make our lives complete. The great Kiwi tradition of looking out for one another and making sure everyone gets looked after has never been more important. The people down in Christchurch are showing us how it’s done.