Let me explain something to you, mate. Let me explain something that will unite us. Tuesday, 22 February 2011 and I’m sitting at my desk, sipping this tepid cup of coffee. I’m trying to track down an art historian. “But they must speak Te Reo Māori,” a colleague says. When I look up the staff directory at the University of Auckland, I’m annoyed. “Man, they’re all Whiteys,” I think to myself.
Yet around 1pm, news of a disaster starts to filter into the office. Measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake shatters the garden city of Christchurch (Ōtautahi), on the east coast of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Heck, you should see the pics: like whole buildings are pancaked. Cars are crushed by falling bricks. The spire of the iconic Cathedral – a symbol of the city’s love affawith its British roots – lies twisted on the mangled pavement square. Apparently, tourists were inside the tower when the quake hit but no one can find them. Now, car alarms choke the wails of women and men looking for their families under the rubble. Mate, you should hear the grim reports: like bits of people litter the ground. How does that even happen, mate? How can the human body shatter in the space of a minute. Soon, we will learn that some 145 people are dead. Over 200 are still missing. I have friends and whanau in Christchurch, right. I can’t reach them.
Communications systems are overloaded. No one knows what the hell is going on down there.
However, let me explain something to you, mate. In the carnage, among the shattered masonry and glass, all I can see is this one image of a determined Samoan guy. He hurls granite blocks like the stones are made of polystyrene as he searches desperately for buried survivors. The news footage is frantic and jittery. A little grainy as the post quake dust settles thickly over the lens. Maybe the camera operator’s hands are shaking. Wouldn’t blame him, mate. Nevertheless, he points his camera at this Samoan guy and creates a legend. Suddenly Aotearoa is in love. Who is he? What’s his name? Don’t know but it doesn’t matter because in this one beautiful moment, we are witnessing a snapshot of raw human spirit. This man transcends flimsy societal constructs like gender and ethnicity. Mate, he’s not a Samoan, Māori or a Pākehā-Whitey like me. Heck, he’s not even a Kiwi. This man is undeniably human, reaching selflessly out to another person at a time of need.
Mean as. That’s pure love, mate, and that’s what’s going to unite us.
Orchid Tierney is a New Zealand poet, writer and the founding editor of Rem Magazine (www.remmagazine.net) and Mapping Me: A Landscape of Women’s Stories which is currently in production. Her work has appeared in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia and the United States. www.orchidtierney.com.
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