Response to the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand: an homage to home

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I wrestle against the heaving wind along the Galveston coast as I pound the pavement in morning darkness. The strain in my calves, my hair in the wind. Running permits a familiar feeling of freedom I yearn for. Each stride injects purpose into the coming day, but today there is a heavier feeling. With each stride I carry a head full of thought and a heart tethered to the other side of the world.

The waves crash abrasively against the shore, hurling spray and sand at my legs and into my squinting eyes. In the predawn darkness, I am alone with one repetitive chain of numbing thoughts: What? Why? How? … Home.

What possessed an anti-Islamic radical terror group to shake the core of my tiny homeland, New Zealand? What gave them the right to take the lives of 49 innocent people who should have been safe?

Why New Zealand, why Christchurch, why March 15, 2019? Why were the attackers so consumed by hate? Why those 49 victims? It seems so unjust.

How did New Zealand and the western world end up here? How did we become so oblivious to the tensions within our diverse societies that we failed to identify isolated factions veering from the idealised norm of kiwi inclusiveness? How do we move forward? Can we move forward?

And, home.

This is home.

This is my sister’s, my aunty and uncle’s, my cousins’, and friends’ home. A place of safety, culture and community. It was also home to 49 others who believed they were protected, safe and secure in freedom and love.

But they weren’t.

Today, I got to feel the wind against my face and the electric energy of predawn darkness surging in the sea.

They didn’t.

And for a kiwi girl far from home, that is a blatant and painful fact I must grasp and make meaning from.

Never did I think when I set off to live in America that I would be the one receiving the news of a mass terrorist attack unfolding on the opposite side of the world.

Guns here, not there … New Zealand’s cosmopolitan contemporary, an oblivious oversight I let govern my identity and existence.

Naive, yes.

Shocked? Completely.

As a policy student, should have I been more aware? Probably.

Should I have seen the growing rifts of cultural ties aligning with policy loopholes?

Definitely.

But I didn’t. Neither did top professionals, because this is New Zealand. We are everything good out of the globalized world. The culture, diversity, open government, and strong economy, all without the mainstream terrors or tensions that the majority of the tightly quartered world has become accustomed to. Sheltered by our vast ocean buffers, hate has commonly dissipated before it reached our shores. We founded a society based on trust and common values of humanistic virtue.

As a nation recoils in the coming days, policy options will be plentiful and–inevitably– pointed fingers of blame. Nothing will bring back the lives of 49 innocent people. How to grieve effectively to dignify and memorialise their unfinished lives becomes the only tangible question we can answer.

We will be plagued by the ‘whys’ as we forge forward and grapple with our newfound awareness and catapult into the most recent form of world \wide horror.

But kiwis are adaptable, and we will adjust. We will stamp out fear by continuing to love and trust in humanity. And we will not allow the fear mongering of a few individuals dispel our national resolve. We will continue to band together and bolster the good we hold dear to our identity.

And so, as I try to close my thoughts for the day, I am left thinking of simple hope amid the juxtaposition of human conditions such disasters create. I think specifically of Anne Lamott’s description: “hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

Let us watch and work as a nation to build a better “us.” Let us not give up in the face of adversity, and let us stay strong New Zealand.

Kia Kaha

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