Facing the unthinkable in New Zealand

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This week’s post is far from my usual offerings, as last Friday in New Zealand we were subjected to our worst fears: a right-wing racially-bigoted man shot at and killed fifty of us; among them men, women and children. This twenty-eight year old man went into two mosques in quick succession and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons and mowed worshippers down.

New Zealand is a small country, in size and population and up until last Friday, we had been considered a peaceful, fair-minded and friendly society. We do not have a culture of toting guns (including the general police force), and most of us would never have seen a gun, let alone held one in our hands. Guns, we thought, were the domain of farmers, hunters, special police force, the military, and countries other than ourselves.

We are not however, so naive that we close our eyes to the gun culture within our gangs, or have we been immune from the trauma of other gun-associated deaths; but these happenings, although horrific, are not generally committed by someone with a skewed ideology and an inherent hatred for those different from themselves. The man who walked into the mosques last week, had come to New Zealand intent on carrying out this heinous crime.

As a child, my parents hosted a Hungarian family who were escaping troubled times in their home country.  They arrived in New Zealand with little more than the clothes they wore. This family was welcomed in by the small community in which we lived. The local Anglican congregation rallied around to find toys and clothes for the children, help the father find work, and a home. This is what I remember.

We had long welcomed other cultures into New Zealand and I was proud that my father had friends from India, Italy, France and Hong Kong. My mother taught new Dutch immigrants in her classes. This is what I remember.

To say our country is in grief, sums up the collective pall which hangs over us.  Many of us have tears in our eyes.

Despite this, our country has rallied together, schools have held concerts, performed haka, sung their hearts out for the families who have lost so much. Others have written messages, left flowers, attended memorials, donated money. It seems we still have a lot more to give. This is what I’ll remember.

Kia kaha

cof