Sunday, February 24, 2013

Christchurch Earthquake Memorial 2013

   Tears flowed freely at the Earthquake memorial on Friday (22 Feb 2013), and only the bleakest of souls would have refused to shed their own at some point during the day. I shed a little tear when I wrote a short message to a long lost friend earlier that morning. And while I had a lump in my throat when the representatives of the first responders got spontaneous applause as they laid their wreath, I didn't really shed a tear until this guy (right) laid his wreath.

He was the first of the "public" attending to put flowers on the memorial. Then, all of a sudden, the reason we were there was real. 

   He was anonymous. I don't know his name. He wasn't wearing a suit. He hadn't addressed the crowd. He didn't say a word. He simply laid his flowers, blew a kiss, bowed his head, and left.

   And I thought that is what the day is about.

   There were touching moments during the ceremony on Friday. Sadly, the bulk of it was dull, uninspiring, and insulting. 

   You know, I have a religious history, and while I don't buy into a lot of it now, I understand that it is a comfort for some. But reading 1 Corinthians 13, in its entirety? Rote prayers from sullen, sanctimonious people who are 60% politician and 40% puppet?

   Does this woman ever smile? I know she's under a lot of pressure but it wouldn't hurt her cause to smile once in a while. She epitomises the surly religious tyrant, angry at the world because we're all going to hell but if only we would listen to her her job would be a lot easier. Maybe then she would smile? She certainly doesn't exude the "joy of Christ" I thought all Christians aspired to. I don't remember a single word she said at the podium. 

   Who knew this guy existed? Apparently he's the Christchurch Catholic equivalent. With all due respect (and I'm not sure why he automatically deserves any respect) I don't know his name, I don't know his role, and I didn't understand a single word he mumbled to the crowd.

   If these two people represent the spiritual heart of this city, then...well, one only has to look at the physical city to get a feeling for how its spiritual heart beats.

   Can someone tell me what David Shearer was doing there? Apart from a short stint at UCan, what connection does he have to Christchruch? I assume there's some political obligation for the Leader of the Opposition to be there, but isn't that the point? It's political. Who was he representing that Megan Woods or Clayton Cosgrove couldn't? I hate to think that his presence was solely about being seen. 

And even John Key, for that matter? At least he has deeper roots in Christchurch, but I suspect his presence was more about being seen, too. I didn't come to the memorial to hear politicking. I hoped, in vain, that there may have been some inspiration, some real words of comfort, some genuine insight into the future (did he write his speech on the plane trip down here?). Alas, none of that was to be heard.

I don't mind religion and politics that are heartfelt and genuine. But politics has long forsaken both of those things, and I suspect most of religion has excommunicated such sentiments as well. I don't want to hear Victoria Matthews' strange gruff accent; I don't want to hear John Key's semi-whiny, read-from-a-page stilting speech impediment. And to be honest, the way representatives of other religions and groups read short passages - "we remember them" - in unison was just silly. Cringe-worthy. Some of this footage will have been beamed around the world. At the same time I was proud and embarrassed to be a Cantabrian.

Next year can we hear from real Cantabrians? Instead of religious and political "dignitaries" can we hear from the families who lost loved ones? Can we hear from the first responders? Can we hear from some children? Can we not sing boring dirges that depress? Can we give interested parties real air time? Can we employ someone to give a really inspiring, uplifting positive forward-looking speech? But one, too that honours the real reason the memorial exists? The people who died (last year they read the names - I'd like to see that done every year. It's 5 minutes well spent, I think); those injured; and those of us who, to varying degree, all live with the daily aftermath of those devastating (and ongoing) earthquakes.

I know it's impossible to satisfy everyone, but I find it hard to imagine anyone would have been truly inspired or comforted by that stiff, rote presentation on Friday.