A few weeks ago while on holiday in the South Island, Fleur and I paid a visit to Christchurch. I had not been in Christchurch for about ten years, so I vaguely remember the beauty of the city. Yet, walking through the Central Business District was like walking through a city that has been in the midst of a war zone. Large tracts of land which had been cleared of buildings, are now used for car parks, the difficult task of demolishing multi- story’s buildings continues. There are still whole streets of two and three story’s buildings waiting demolition. The Anglican Cathedral in the square, this once proud building, still waits a final court ruling on its future, it stands forlorn partly demolished with a large fence around it. In this state it symbolizes the past pain and grief of a city that once was, but is no more.
Driving through the city and suburbs was a moving experience. We drove through Avonside, one of the areas that had been severely affected by the earthquake. We saw street after street where houses had been demolished leaving hedges and fences showing the outline of sections, along with camellia bushes busting out in flower. Here and there empty houses surrounded by security fencing wait their turn to be demolished. But in the midst of this seeming desolation, people are still living waiting to be rehoused, perhaps the last house in a street, with no immediate neighbours around them. The area has a real ghostly feel and driving along the empty pot holed streets I felt that I was intruding upon the grief and pain of the people who had lived and continue to live in this community.
When I saw the pictures on the television of the devastation, in the aftermath of the earthquake, I was only an observer from a distance, quite detached safe and secure here in Auckland.
Now I was here actually seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and feeling the demolition taking place and standing in those empty streets of Avonside, I in a very minute way experienced something of the loss and grief still present. Yet, there is a new spirit of expectation of hope and a brighter future is present.
An example of this new hope and expectation is the new cardboard Anglican Cathedral in Latimer Square; this is a truly remarkable building. For me it signifies that in the midst of the loss, pain and grief, new life is present and hope is being born and is alive and well. I recall the camellia bushes blooming in the empty sections in Avonside, again new life is present. A reminder that Mother Earth who a few years ago shook this area which such power, now gently brings the beauty of the camellia flower to bloom. This is a paradox and worthy of our contemplation.
In conversations with various people in the city, there is not a morbid dwelling on the events of the past, there is acknowledgment of their presence, but there is also a deep desire to live with hope and joy in the present now of life.
I am reminded of these words by Henri Nouwen from: Work around your Abyss
There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually that abyss closes. Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.
I sense the people of Christchurch will always have that abyss, that inexhaustible hole. However, the people I spoke with are not absorbed in their pain or running away from it, rather they are working around the constant reminder and learning to live again. Transformation is happening, in some places it may be barely recognizable, but it is happening as the camellia bud slowly opens to be the beautiful flower.
This can be an encouragement to us seemingly unaffected by the tremors of the earthquake, yet we each have our own personal abyss, we know it is there. But, we don’t want to be absorbed by our pain or run from its presence, rather, we seek to live. Slowly, at times ever so slowly, so that deep hole, that abyss within each of us, will slowly close, but, never fully. It will always remain open as a constant reminder of that which was, or the empty presence of the one who now lives within the memory banks of our heart.
I am privileged to have been able to visit post-earthquake Christchurch, in particular Avonside, for I am left with a renewed sense of the preciousness of life, the strength of the human spirit and how hope is always being born in the most remarkable places in the most unpredictable ways, offering great expectations for the living of these days.