Our Black Friday

One week ago as I hit publish on my last post an horrendous event took place in my country. Today at 1.30 pm we will put aside our activities and take two minutes to stand in silence honouring the memories of the victims.

There is an added element to the Christchurch massacre that we in Dunedin are all painfully aware of. The shooter lived here for two years. He trained at a local gun club. He had originally targeted the local city mosque, but a trip to Christchurch had convinced him there was greater glory to be found in the larger population. So he travelled four hours north and on Friday 15th March 2019 targeted two sacred venues, killing adults and children and was on his way to a third when apprehended.

Much has happened here since the event. There are heroes everywhere I look. The two police officers who chased down the gunman as he drove to his third chosen venue of attack and, without a thought for their own lives, successfully took him into custody barely twenty minutes after the first call for help went out. These two men stand tall above all others.

The first responders, including ordinary passers by, who tried desperately to help, to save, to offer succour. One especially, who wept and was hugged by the news interviewer as they recalled the ghastly scene.

The farmer who voluntarily handed in his legal weapon and tweeted about it, asking others to join him. The gun’s convenience to him was nothing when compared to the acts of violence committed by a like weapon he said.

Jacinda, who paused a moment in surprise when a high school student asked her how she was doing at question time.  “How am I doing?” she repeated “i’m feeling very sad.”  Four words that describe a country.  But Jacinda went straight on.  Government, she said, can do certain things.  But I can’t do it alone, I need your help.  And she called on the students to do all they could to ensure the eradication of racism.  

Throughout the country there has been a mass outpouring of support for the victims and vigils are held outside mosques or in city centres where thousands gather and stand together silently in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters. It is a strong and palpable silence and in that silence there is a strong and palpable resolve growing.

First up is the actions of our Prime Minister. I’ve mentioned her here, no doubt you have probably seen her and heard her speak – it seems she is being touted around the world as an example to all leaders of How to Lead. And she is. New gun laws were introduced within six days. People are lining up to voluntarily hand over their weapons before the legislation is even passed.

Jacinda has said she will never to mention the name of the shooter. So very many of us have joined with her. We will, as a nation, deny him the notoriety he sought. We do not speak of him when we gather. We speak of the victims, of the heroes, of Jacinda. We speak of the vigils and the silence and the moments of heart rending sadness and strength and resilience we observe. We speak of our determination to rise above this event and to be one people in our country.

I look always to find the light in all moments of darkness in this world. It has not been hard to find them in this instance. There is a rising up in us, we will not be silent any longer. Racism is being met head on. This is an environment where the white supremacists, the racists, the ignorant do not feel safe.

I was in my local coffee shop buying my beans last Monday. There was a man sitting at the one table with the morning paper opened in front of him, the front page had been removed, carefully folded and sat to his right with the headline blazing out.

Jared went off to grind my beans for me and I looked at the folded page of the newspaper. The man did not acknowledge me when I asked if I could look at it. His face was hard set and he was reading about the shootings with his finger tracing the words. I’m a bit fey, I have a well developed feel for the intentions of people. He did not feel like a man of good intentions to me.

I looked at the article and as Jared returned I said to him ‘I don’t know why I’m reading this – it’s so ugly’. We talked on about the event and he told me how he and his family had made candles (he has two boys and a lovely wife) and they taken them down to the mosque the night before and joined the hundreds of people standing vigil.  He spoke of the silence and stillness and the tears that ran unchecked.

As we spoke we were both aware that the man at the table quietly got up and left the shop. Jared and I made eye contact and he kept on with his retelling of their experiences the night before. But we both knew in that moment, we had just driven a racist from his comfortable seat.

In choosing to honour the sacrifice of the victims, the actions of our heroes and the changes that have come and will come we as a nation are sending a clear and concise message to right wing terrorists. You are not wanted, you will not be elevated in any way, there is no place for you here.

I swapped my experience during that conversation with Jared, of having met a man some time ago in my street. As I made my way home with Siddy after our early morning walk we met a lone, older gentleman carrying his coffee mug, wandering towards us, kicking at the odd stone that had made its way from a gravel drive to the pavement, removing a piece of litter from between the fence palings on another property. I greeted him and he responded in a thick accent and with a tired smile.

Initially I was puzzled by his aimless wandering with coffee mug in hand – until one day it clicked for me. Of course, here was a man from a culture that interacted on the street, the cafes where the men would gather for their morning coffees and news gathering, perhaps a board game …… as a refugee he found himself suddenly upended here, in an area where there is no street culture to speak of and he, poor soul, spent his mornings looking for it. I felt so sad for him, and at a loss too as it was so hard to communicate anything other than a smile.

We ran into each other often over the ensuing weeks and as his English slowly improved we advanced beyond the simple greeting to brief conversations. One day he asked the name of my friendly dog. I replied ‘Siddy’. He double checked it. Then his face broke into a huge grin “Ah!” he declaimed, throwing his arm in a wide arc towards the city centre, “Ciddy!” “Yes, yes” I laughed with him in his delight. And so it is that to one man at least, Siddy is not named for the prince who became Buddha, he is named for a place of commerce.

I have not seen him for a while now, I guess he has given up looking for the culture he knows and stays home to drink his coffee.

Jared handed me a coffee card telling me to pass it on to the man when I next met him, he was welcome to go to his rotisserie where he would get a free coffee and Jared would play draughts with him. Perhaps, we thought, it could become the hangout for our new locals. We got stupidly excited at the thought.

And I now have a job to do – to find my refugee and take him somewhere for coffee.

I have started a drawing that may become a painting

Thanks for all your kind and heartfelt words in the last post – they confirm what I already knew. The world is full of good people. My blog stands testament to that and so does yours. We need now to stand up and ensure our voices are the ones that are heard. And, as ever, thanks for coming by today I love that you did!