Monday, February 28, 2011

I’m not a hero – Day 5 after #Chch #Eqnz

I’ve learned one thing about myself this week.  I’d always assumed I was someone who coped well with crisis.  I’d assumed that in an emergency I’d be someone who stops to help others. But when the crunch came, it didn’t even occur to me.  Even though I’d seen the buildings come down, I didn’t think to stop and look for people in the rubble.  There were teenage school girls screaming with fear, and I didn’t stop to reassure them.  My brain was numb, and not functioning beyond “I’ve got to get out of here”.

Partially in my excuse, I couldn’t actually see anyone injured or trapped.  The buildings that collapsed near me had already been empty from the Boxing Day aftershock, and as far as I could see the others who’d been near me in the street had also got clear.  Those who’d been killed were a few metres further down the street, and I couldn’t see that far due to the fog of dust everywhere.  But it should have occurred to me that there would have been people needing help, and it didn’t.

These thoughts had been really bugging me for a few days.  Stories were emerging of passersby pulling injured people free from rubble, and those people were quoted as saying they were only doing what anyone would do in the circumstances.  But I was in the same circumstances and I didn’t.

I hadn’t been able to cope with Church yesterday morning – too many people, too much noise.  Even hiding in crèche with Mr Two got too noisy for me just with having half a dozen toddlers playing.

In the afternoon I went for a walk along Wigram Road – out in the open with nice open paddocks on either side, and wide open sky, and nothing to fall down.  I found a quiet spot beside the road and sat down for a good cry. (Well, it was quiet until a passing motorist paused to ask if I was okay.) And yes, it did feel better.  And yes, I felt God was there with me as I did so.

I then attended the evening prayer meeting.  Smaller numbers, slightly quieter music.  About where I was at.  And I found I was actually able to pray.  I think praying with other people in a small group helped.

Later in the evening Steve Graham (my previous pastor, Dean of Laidlaw College in Christchurch, and a reader of this blog) emailed me (and others) an article he’d written:

The paragraph that touched me the most was:

““As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven,” Neh 1: 4.

I like the sense of that phrase “wept and mo
urned for days”, I think he is emphasizing that this was overwhelming. He did not rush out to be strong or powerful or cope, he grieved and it went on and on and on. And he had not even been part of the trauma. And some of us feel like that and a bit embarrassed and guilty that we haven’t been strong and charged out helping. We were just stunned and tearful. Thank God for those of you who leapt into action. We so needed your calm confidence but others of us just didn’t cope so well this time. We are all different aren’t we and as Mayor Bob Parker said we need to do what is right for us. Sounds kind of selfish, feels guilty – thanks for permission Bob (sincerely!). Some of us need to get out of the city, some need to care for needy family, some DO need to get out and help. The paradox is that the sooner we do what we need to do the sooner the energy will come to help. Some may say I don’t have that luxury just now. All we can say is thank you and we want to be there to give you that time when your time comes. This guy Nehemiah wept for days – later he would rebuild a nation!”

I really appreciated those words Steve – they were right where I was at.  I was feeling embarrassed and a little guilty I hadn’t done more on the day.  But I did what I needed to do for me – get safe and get to my family.

So bravo to all the real heroes out there.  We couldn’t do this without you.  But it’s not wrong for me to not be one of them.  My part in the process will come.

I’d really recommend everyone affected by this quake to read Steve’s article.  Everyone’s at a different place, and Steve seems to have touched on all of those places.

To use Steve’s words to sum up:

“In summary:
• Grieve: be true to what your heart and your body are saying you need to do. The sooner you do the sooner you move through that phase.
• Take care of yourself: do the basics: eat, and sleep.
• Listen for the heart promptings of “good” you could do
• Begin restoring order and filling – and celebrate each small step and pace yourself as you do it.
• Team together and focus what you can do knowing others will be building right next to you.
• Find the life giving presence and power of God, the resurrection power of God, to rebuild hope life, laughter, joy, order, love, structure and fullness.
• Let hope begin to arise – God is with us for recovery and this great city can be rebuilt.”

Again – thanks Steve.  Now I’m off to have another quiet cry.


  1. before I'd even read past the first paragraph, I was thinking "don't beat yourself up over what you didn't do". You did your job - and that was to get home to your children (and husband) who need you so much more than an unfortunate stranger in the street. No one was going to rescue you or come and get you; you had to rescue yourself. Your "mother" instinct kicked in. You can't help everyone; no one can help everyone. You have to pick your battles, and on the day, you picked those nearest and dearest to you. And no one is blaming you for that.

    take care.

  2. That's exactly what I was going to say - you did your job and ran to your husband and children - your mother's instinct kicked in. Bravo!

    It hadn't occurred to me that you had been feeling this way until yesterday. I thank God that Steve's words have encouraged you and allowed you to pace yourself and give yourself permission to respond how your heart, mind and body chooses to.

    In your post on the day of the earthquake, you wrote: "My two year old came running out saying “Mummy! Wobbles!”" That to me says that on the day you WERE a the eyes of your children who needed YOU more than anyone else. There was a need, you were aware of it, and you walked a fair distance...even respond to that need. Sounds pretty darn heroic to me!

  3. I can completely relate. I know I would have reacted in the same way as you, had I been amongst the destruction in the CBD. There have been so many levels of loss for people during this time but we can't judge ( most especially ourselves)for how we are entitled to grieve. Ultimately as a city we have all been through this together. I had the guilt's after the last quake in September when I just froze and my husband ran to the children. I beat myself up over that for weeks/months..probably still even do. One thing I was slightly thankful for was that they were all safe at school when this happened and when I froze in panic mode during the shake this time I didn't have to feel guilty about doing so! ;)
    we're all made differently, some people have amazing abilities to cope in an emergency where as the rest of us can stand the long haul and help those in need when all the hype has waned..just my 2 cents

    p.s love how you found praying with a group helped. I have found it extremely difficult to pray at this time. Just can't seem to do it.

  4. Thanks for your feedback guys. I know in my mind that you're right, but sometimes that doesn't change the feelings. My hope is that by writing about how I feel it might help others who are feeling the same.

    @Widge - lots of hugs to you. I totally relate about being unable to pray. I've decided that crying is a prayer in its own right, just a deeper, gut kind of prayer than what we're used to. Keep safe.