Everyone in this city has a story to tell about where they were at 12:51pm 22 February 2011, about what they did, how they coped (or not), their aftermath. Each story is unique, and important. Everyone has been impacted in a potentially life changing way.
Last weekend our church hosted a ladies evening, which focussed on providing an opportunity to share and listen to each other’s stories. I found my story got summed up as one sentence: “I was in Cashel Mall”. There has been enough news coverage of the damage and casualties from that part of town that not much more needed to be said.
But there’s so much more that doesn’t get covered in the news reports, and graphic pictures of piles of rubble. Little details that are etched in my memory: The image of a wall toppling towards me, the way the buildings crashed down the street one after the other (instead of simultaneously that I’d have expected if I’d ever thought about it). The dust – the air thick with dust like a pea-soup fog but gritty. The feeling of grit in my hair and eyes and ears and nose. (Made worse by being unable to shower for several days afterwards). The numbing blankness of my mind as the primeval, instinctual part of my brain turned on survival mode, somehow calculating the trajectories of toppling buildings in an instant without any conscious thought, keeping me alive. The way time slowed so 24 seconds seemed like an eternity.
Mine is just one of 400,000 stories. Those who escaped, those who didn’t, and the vast majority who weren’t in any immediate danger, but still experienced intense, violent shaking. Those in the eastern suburbs coping with liquefaction, flooding, and the lack of power, water and sewage. Across the city – munted houses, munted roads, schools, shops. Lost jobs, relocated jobs. People getting frustrated, angry, discouraged and stressed. The best of humanity, the heroes and occasionally the worst of humanity.
On its own each story doesn’t stand out from any other, but when we put all our stories together, weave and knit them, combined, they tell of the experiences of a City. It is the amalgamation of 400,000 stories that is powerful and impacting. Each story, not matter how small and insignificant on its own, is a valid and essential part of the whole. Even those outside of Christchurch are also part of this story – how they heard, how they felt, how they responded, and reached out to help in big and small ways.
Today I signed The Pledge. One day that document of the tens of thousands of signatures will be bound and likely displayed at the Canterbury Museum as a symbol of the 400,000 stories bound into One Story, Our Story.