To the homeless and the hunted
may we always open doors,
may the restless and the weary
find safe harbour on our shores.
May you always be our dreamtime-place
a spirit’s glad release.
May you always be our shelter.
May we always live in peace.
Those aren’t my words. They are from the song “Shelter”, and were written by Eric Bogle in 1987, about the country he came to as an immigrant – the country where I was born, where I grew up. Australia. The country that gave birth to the man who got up on Friday morning, got in his car, drove for four hours to Christchurch, and then walked into a place where people were praying, and opened fire.
I’ve written and erased so many words, trying to find a way to say the things that I want to say. Words have consequences. Words are weapons. Words are what people use first. And the words we accept make way for actions to follow.
This morning I got in my car and drove in to Christchurch to the mosque, to leave flowers. I in left brilliant sunshine, and drove into rain. I parked a couple of streets away from the cordon and walked in. There were so many people doing the same. Some with bunches of flowers from florists, some (like me) who’d obviously brought things from their own gardens. There were news crews and reporters doing pieces to camera. And police officers with assault weapons, standing guard. People walking up in pairs, or small groups, or on their own. Someone had left a Cashmere High School jacket there, to mark the death of a fellow student. There were candles. Balloons. Posters. There were stones that had been painted with messages like aroha, peace, and they are us. Children and teenagers with their parents. People weeping. One young guy, who looked to be in his late twenties, who broke down and bent over the railing for a moment, crying silently. People coming, standing a while, leaving. And the rain falling gently.
We know that this part, traumatic as it has been, is not the hard part. The earthquakes, the fires, all the chaos and horror of the last eight and a bit years have battered us so badly. And now this, which is so much worse, because it was inflicted deliberately. Autopilot is keeping us going through this. But the important work is what comes next. We have to find a way to reach out. I should have gone up to the young guy at the railings. I should have turned to the people who were there beside me, and said … something. Anything. My name. Platitudes. I’m a hermit by nature, so it doesn’t come easily to me to reach out to strangers when there is no immediate need, no danger, no galvanising force. When it’s just all of us in the rain, trying to put together a puzzle that’s been smashed to pieces and scattered to the four corners of the world we thought we knew. I don’t know where to start. But we all need to try. To find words that we can use, that have meaning. Even if we start with a catchphrase, a password, a shibboleth. We could do a lot worse than you are us. Or the phrase they used at the vigil in (I think) Hamilton – you are precious in my eyes. A way of reaching out to each other. Because hate isn’t going to work – not even hating the person who did this. Hate is what brought him here. And to paraphrase Jed Bartlett from The West Wing, no one is born wanting to do this.
We are Cantabrians.
We are New Zealanders.
We are Muslim and Christian and Jewish and Buddhist and Atheist and Humanist and a thousand other ways of honouring existence.
We are parents and children and siblings and family of all possible degrees.
We are strangers.
We are neighbours.
They are us.
You are us.
Aroha nui. You are precious in my eyes.