• Faith,  Family

    It’s okay to not be okay

    On Friday my country, New Zealand, was irrevocably changed.

    To live in New Zealand is to live in freedom, peace and comfort (compared to many other countries around the world). We are proud of the breathtaking scenery here, and of our friendly, easy-going people.

    But our peace was shattered by a gunman with a sick agenda, who shot and killed 50 people and injured another 29 while they were praying at two mosques in Christchurch.

    The impact of this event will be felt for a long time to come; so great is the shock and grief and anger that such a thing could happen here.

    Along with mourning for the people who were killed or injured, and their families, I feel for the poor citizens of Christchurch – people who have been through so much trauma in recent years due to the earthquakes.

    I can say that this event touched me deeply.

    While I wasn’t in the immediate vicinity, I just happened to be in Christchurch that day. Here is my story.

    My husband accepted an invitation to a good friend’s wedding in Sydney. We could’t afford for us all to go after our recent trip to Australia, but I encouraged Mr G to go, and to take a few days off to have a bit of a holiday.

    I’m used to him going away for several days at a time. It’s usually fine, although weekends are tiring, as there’s no school or kindy to give me a break.

    I decided to take the children to Christchurch for the a night or two at the weekend. I hadn’t spent much time there in years (the longest stretch was between the two earthquakes). Because of all the fun things to do in Christchurch, I was looking forward to having a great adventure with the kids.

    I originally planned to arrive in Christchurch on the Friday night. But on the Wednesday, E was very tired (she’s 6). I changed my plans. She needed a day off school to recharge her batteries, plus D was recovering from a cold.

    I’ll give them the day off, so we can sleep in and then head for Christchurch on Friday morning, I thought.

    Which we did.

    The weather was iffy, and I couldn’t decide whether to take them on the Gondola or to the Toy Collector, a toy museum in the cbd. The drizzle and cloud meant we wouldn’t get to see the spectacular views of Christchurch, but after arguing with myself about which option was best, I decided to go with the gondola. I would later thank God for this decision.

    On the gondola

    We had a great time, despite being able to see absolutely nothing at the top because the cloud cover was so thick.

    We were done around 1:30pm, so I drove us to our AirBnb accommodation as it had an early check-in time. I drove via Linwood Avenue, missing the shootings there by mere minutes.

    We dumped our things, and set off for K Mart as I had a few things to get, plus I needed to buy dinner for the children (I had AIP food with me). When you don’t live anywhere near a K Mart, you make the most of any opportunity to go there!

    My kids are currently obsessed with this George Ezra ‘Shotgun’ spoof, and were singing ‘K Maaart…’ at the top of their lungs. It is now 2pm.

    We arrive at the Palms mall in Shirley, and I stop to let the kids play at a little indoor playground there. I chat to a young Maori couple, when a lady comes up to us and says quietly, so as not to alert the children:

    “They’re evacuating the mall. A guy’s shot some people in the CBD and they don’t know where he is”.

    We look at her in disbelief. The young Maori lady jokes, “Well, he hasn’t met me! He’d betta watch out,” and we laugh.

    A security guard comes around the corner and tells us we need to leave immediately as they are locking down the mall. He tells us the CBD is in lockdown.

    We walk out of the mall to see an armed policeman who tells us to get in our cars and go home and stay home. Police cars are screaming along the main road by the mall.

    “Why do we have to go home?’ asks E.

    “There’s danger,” I say. “A man with a gun has hurt some people.”

    “Why?”

    “I don’t know,” I say, but I think it’s probably some guy who started to take pot shots at police after they’ve responded to a domestic. That’s usually the way of it.

    In a frightened voice, D who is 4 years old, asks me if he’s going to get shot in the back.

    “No darling, ” I say, but I scan the car park to make sure there’s isn’t a gun-wielding madman there, just in case.

    I have no idea where the shooting took place. All I know is we are near the CBD, and if the cops are locking this place down, the police musn’t know where this man is.

    We are a short drive from our accommodation, and once inside I lock the door and shut the curtains.

    I look at my phone and see I have missed a call from my Dad. I call him back.

    “Did you hear what’s happening down in Christchurch?” he says, even though he is calling me about something unrelated.

    “Dad, I’m in Christchurch,” I say. “What’s going on?”

    “Oh no! Some guy’s gone and shot people at a mosque, and they’ve just said on the news there’s been shootings at another mosque. They think it’s a coordinated attack, and they’ve found bombs,” replies Dad.

    Bombs?

    I wonder how far away we are from these mosques, and if there’s any others near by. I feel sick, and scared for the safety of my kids.

    After I’ve finished talking to Dad I try to get the TV at our accommodation to work. It won’t, and I spend several frustrating minutes trying to get it work, while my kids are in raptures over the toys in the house.

    I message our AirBnb host to ask if there’s some special way to work the TV, and add that I’m anxious to get news of what’s happening in the CBD. I remember to enquire after her welfare, in case she’s caught up in it.

    “I’m in lockdown,” she replies. “They’ve just arrested someone outside my work. My kids are in lockdown at school.”

    She sends me photos taken from her work, which show armed police everywhere.

    I feel stupid for even bothering her and tell her to stay safe, and that I hope she gets home to her kids soon. I feel grateful that my kids are with me, and can imagine how frantic I’d be to get to them if this had happened in my sleepy little town. I think about all the kids in lockdown at school, and how frightened they must be.

    I manage to get TV streaming to work on my phone. The news is horrific.

    When awful events happen, experts say we should shut off the TV or radio so as not to alarm our children. I do none of this, although my kids are playing in another room, oblivious. I sit glued to the screen in horror.

    Have they got everyone? Are we safe? I wonder.

    The news has no information about where the cordons are, or if there are any more attacks going on around the city.

    “Have you managed to get the TV working?” messages my host.

    I say no, and tell her not to worry as I’m using my phone.

    Finally, word comes that some people have been arrested. The cordon is lifted.

    I look online to see if the Palms is reopening – only because I have no dinner for the children. They don’t. I look up food delivery in the area because I don’t want to go out if I can help it. Everywhere is shut for the night. I don’t blame them.

    The children eat toast for dinner without complaint.

    At 6:30pm my host shows up at the door to fix the TV. I tell her not to worry about it and to go home, but she insists she’s okay and comes in. She tells me her kids are okay and have been picked up by her ex-partner. She asks if we are okay.

    As my children play loudly around us she tells me:

    “They found a bomb in my car.”

    I look at her in utter shock.

    She explains that she works near the Deans Ave mosque and parks her car nearby.

    After making sure the bomb posed no threat, the Police have taken her car to forensics. Goodness knows when she’ll get it back.

    The nice men on the building site next door gave her one of their work utes to borrow for the weekend. The kindness and trust of strangers.

    I can see she is in shock despite her insistence that’s she’s okay. It will hit you later, I think.

    She triumphantly manages to wrangle the TV into submission. I tell her to go straight home and have a stiff drink. I really hope she did.

    I look at the time – bedtime for my kids. I go into the room where my son will be sleeping. He’s got a few toys out, but it looks different.

    “What happened in here?” I ask.

    Miss E looks down and says, “Do you mean the stickers?”

    I realise that’s what is different. She found a sheet of stickers and put them all over the bed and drawers!

    It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    I’m pretty sure you could have heard me yelling all over Shirley.

    Fortunately the stickers peeled off just fine, and E went to bed in disgrace.

    I watched the unfolding horror on TV until late. The news says that children are included in the dead. I cannot imagine the pain their parents must feel.

    The next day I decided to head for home. All the things I had planned were in the CBD, and I didn’t want the kids to see armed police anywhere and make them anxious. Plus, it felt very wrong to go sightseeing at such a time.

    Later that night I noticed how frazzled and fragile I felt. Exhausted, I fell into bed, only to be bothered by intrusive thoughts about someone breaking in to attack us.

    At midnight, D came in crying. He’d had a nightmare a man was attacking him. We cuddle together and fall asleep.

    On Sunday I am so tired, but I have to, need to go to church. We have a special service to mourn for those who lost their lives, and to process what has happened. It is a very moving service, and I almost cry.

    We light candles, and pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters who lost a loved one, and whom are no doubt feeling scared and angry. My daughter flits around each person, handing out love hearts that the children are making behind us. The old ladies smile. One says, “I needed that.”

    At the end we stand in a circle, hold hands, and sing the national anthem. It has never been a more fitting song. Here’s verse two:

    Men of every creed and race,
    Gather here before Thy face,
    Asking Thee to bless this place,
    God defend our free land.
    From dissension, envy, hate,
    And corruption guard our state,
    Make our country good and great,
    God defend New Zealand.

    My faith is a huge comfort to me. I hate it when people say ‘thoughts and prayers are not enough’. I know if you don’t have a faith, it may seem trite to say “I’m praying for you“. But believe me, it’s not trite. Like most people with faith, I believe that prayer works. Prayer can help. Prayer can create miracles. Prayer is sometimes the only thing I can do, but I believe my prayers are heard and answered, even if it’s not in the way I want.

    After church, a friend offers to take my kids for a play date with hers, and I jump at the chance.

    I have unpacking to do, the never-ending jobs around the house to do. But I know I am not okay.

    I take a nap instead. I eat some comfort food. I watch several episodes of Queer Eye because my God, the Fab Five lift my spirits.

    On Monday, I’m still feeling a bit fragile and I start berating myself for feeling that way. After all, I wasn’t in danger at any time. I had no right to feel the way I did.

    My inner voice is a total bitch.

    I tell that bitch even though I was never in any danger, I didn’t know that at the time. And I had my kids with me. My protectiveness was in over drive.

    Instead of continuing to beat myself up, I let myself feel all the feelings. I smile at what a number it’s done on my brain. I drop things. I fumble things. I break things. I keep saying the wrong word, which my kids think is hilarious.

    Mr G comes home, after what feels like an eternity. His holiday was a very damp squib as he just wanted to be home with us, but he is grateful that it ended with a joyous event – his friend’s wedding.

    I am deeply saddened by story after story coming out from Kiwi Muslims, who all say they were expecting this one day, given the level of racism they experience here on a daily basis. Stories of being told they are dirty, or smell, or to ‘go home’, or of swastikas being painted on their mosque. Despite all the wonderful ways our people have rallied together to help after the shootings, this too, is New Zealand. We need to own that, and we need to change.

    I think about things I can do to extend the hand of friendship to others in my neck of the woods. I know what it is like to be an immigrant, an outsider, to be different. I will be thinking about how I can best respond.

    If you have been affected by Friday’s events, it’s okay to not be okay.

    Even if you live nowhere near Christchurch, you are still entitled to feel shocked and grief. What happened was appalling.

    Talk to someone about your feelings. Journal it, if it helps. Take naps. Do the things that bring you comfort. Turn those feelings into something constructive. There are many ways to respond, many ways to help, many ways to bring about a more inclusive and safer New Zealand.

    You can call or text 1737 to talk with trained counsellors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Take care of yourself. And love your neighbour, always.