I still feel sick in my stomach when I think about the earthquake in Christchurch. When I think about those who lost their lives, and about those who are still waiting for news of their loved ones.
Last night I attended the vigil at Westminster Cathedral for the city of Christchurch. I was hoping I would find some comfort in being with others who felt the same as I do. Things didn’t really go to plan.
I had received messages from Maia and Jenny saying that the place was packed, and there was a huge crowd outside, so when I arrived at Westminster Abbey and didn’t find a big crowd, I was somewhat confused. I saw a woman peering through the closed entrance gates, looking as confused as I felt, and asked her if she was there for the service. She said yes and asked if I knew how to get in. She wondered if we were in the wrong place. “This is Westminster Cathedral, isn’t it?” No. We were at Westminster Abbey. The service was at the Cathedral. I asked Jenny (by txt) where the Cathedral was in relation to the Abbey, and we started walking, the lady, her Kiwi husband and I. On the way we passed others looking confused, and I stopped to invite them to follow us. When I heard a New Zealand accent, I made sure to let them know what was happening. In a way, it was kind of nice to know I wasn’t the only one who’d made the mistake. It was also nice to speak to other New Zealanders. It was quite different from the way Kiwis usually greet other Kiwis we don’t know when we meet overseas. We were reserved, somber. I met a couple from Invercargill, and didn’t make fun of them.
When we reached the cathedral, we joined the outskirts of the large, silent crowd outside, and listened. All of the speakers were from New Zealand. People stood with their heads bowed, arms on each others’ shoulders. The cold March night air closed around us, biting ears and noses with red chill. I wanted to be in the middle of the crowd. I wanted to be surrounded by people who were as worried as I am, listening to words of comfort and feeling the warmth of the mass of bodies all grieving for a city on the other side of the world.
That’s not what happened. I stood on the edge of the crowd and listened to the words coming from inside the cathedral. I really should have been prepared for the sentiments the speakers shared. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Surprised that, even though I’ve met all of a dozen New Zealanders in my whole life who feel strongly about their Christian religion, this service was all about God. Surprised that, even though a terrible, terrible thing had happened, which no-one could have stopped, we were talking about God. Surprised and disgusted. Disgusted that we were thanking and praising some fictional character who is supposed to have power over everything in the whole world, whom the speakers seemed to believe chose for the earthquake to hit Christchurch, and chose those who lived and those who perished. I was so angry! I had come to be with other New Zealanders, to share something together with them, to have a moment of respectful silence. Instead, I stood at the edge of a crowd, tears pouring down my face, feeling isolated. Whenever I raised my face to look around me, I saw people’s backs, protected from the cold in thick jackets. I saw people listening to this crap, and felt so confused. I found myself thinking, “Does anyone actually believe this bollocks? Is anyone feeling comforted by this? Am I the only one feeling angry and stupid for being here?”
Everyone seemed a million miles away. I wanted to believe it was because they were all feeling as awkward as I was. I stopped being angry at the Christians who spoke of God’s infinite wisdom and there being a time for everything (as if listening to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 could make me realise that, actually, yes, February 22nd was the perfect day for hundreds of people, including mothers, babies, fathers, friends, poets… to die before they had a chance to do all the things they wanted). Instead, I became angry at myself, for not realising what I was getting myself into by going along to the Cathedral. I should have known.
I cried and cried, and tried not to think bitter thoughts about “God” and the stupid people speaking about “Him” (I failed in that attempt, by the way. There was a lot of bitterness and profanity in my thoughts last night – still is, in case you can’t tell). I stood, feeling miles from everyone, waiting impatiently for the service to be over. When it was, I felt immensely relieved as people seemed to come to life around me, as if from a deep trance. The awkwardness dissipated, and I spoke to Jenny on the phone, and we met, and we spent the evening together, reminiscing about high school and the people we knew, and avoided the topic of the earthquake over a pub meal.
I was so grateful to have Jenny’s company last night, just as I was so happy to see Andrew A and Renja in town on Tuesday and spend the day with them. As long as we’re not talking about the earthquake, I love spending time with people I really care about. The problem is, I really want to talk about Rhys, but when I do, I cry. I just don’t feel that’s fair on my friends.
I won’t go again, to the memorial service they’ll be holding for the victims. I’ve re-realised that me and churches don’t mix. In a way, I wish I was religious. I’ve tried to be in the past. It must be some kind of comfort to ‘know’ that someone has a master plan, and that I could, if I prayed enough, get through to that someone and have my voice heard. But I just can’t believe that. When I try, I feel as though I’m suppressing whatever intelligence I possess, and that I’m allowing myself to become stupid and have my life ruled by something that’s not me. Isn’t it like giving up? Saying, ‘Well, life’s too hard, I’m just going to sit back and let God decide what happens now.’ Screw that.
Someone at work came to me today, full of support, wanting to help me, and said, “Just remember that everything happens for a reason.” I wanted to punch her. I had to hold my tongue. What reason could there possibly be for someone like Rhys to be crushed or trapped or burned in a collapsed building in his first weeks of work? He’s engaged to be married! He’s immensely talented at writing. He’s one of those truly good sorts who touched people’s lives in a positive way everywhere he went. I can’t think of any reason he should suffer, or his fiancee or his family. I can’t imagine anyone can put a good spin on this. I’m angry about it. I’m angry and confused and it hurts so much to think what he might be going through.