My son Christian
has been studying economics at Canterbury University in Christchurch on
south island for the past five months. I'm here to visit with him, now
that he's completed his tenure here, then to return with him to the
United States. It's actually more accurate to say I'm here as his
guest. I'm looking forward to seeing hisNew Zealand
ie I'm looking forward to seeing the
he's called home for five months, through his eyes as he shows me
He's grown since I last saw him. He left as a college student, not
without considerable experience. Now I see him as a young man. No
longer a boy, he has a tangible sense of himself now. He's calmer and
His body has firmed. He's muscular now and more defined. His beard is
fuller. His hair has grown out. It's no longer a buzz cut.
Ben Affleck in Argo looks like him.
Although I'll always be his Dad, I can tell it's less required now. Now
he and I are equals. We're
We spend the better part of a day preparing for his move back to the
United States sorting everything in his room (which is to say all his
possessions here) into five piles: toss these (items of no lasting
value temporarily accumulated during his stay here), leave these for
the next tenant (unused cleaning supplies etc), give these to the
homeless (items of clothing which won't fit in his crammed bags), give
these to Salvation Army (all remaining items which won't fit in his
crammed bags), and pack these and take them home. It's gratifying being
here with him to support him pack and move. And yes moving him is a two
As we talk - about the local climate (cold), about the snow capped
hills which surround the town, about the friends he's made here, about
his diet (I notice he's become quite the chef since arriving here) - I
ask him about the damage Christchurch sustained during the February
2011 earthquake. He offers to take us on a walking tour of the city
center during which we can talk more, catch up on his plans for the
future, have lunch, and see the sights - in particular the earthquake
damage. I think it's a great idea. It's more than that actually. It's I
love the idea of (this is what I looked forward to)
showing me around his town, a place I've never set foot in before.
It takes your breath away when you see it for the first time. This
picturesque, historic city has been severely bruised by an
inconceivably powerful, merciless body blow. The earthquake struck on
Tuesday February 22, 2011 at 12:51pm. It was a 6.1 on the exponential
Richter scale - a big 'quake by any stretch of the imagination. But a
6.1 is far from a super-quake. The thing is this
earthquake occurred only thirty four miles down, directly below
Christchurch's downtown CBD ie Central
Business District. Thirty four miles down is so shallow
for an earthquake it's almost on the surface. In addition, this quake
unusually moved the earth up and down and side to side.
Over eight hundred buildings collapsed immediately or were so severely
damaged they had to be demolished at a cost of over fifteen
dollars so far. The earthquake directly and indirectly killed a
hundred and eighty five people, a heartbreaking yet incorrigibly small
total given its colossal scale of devastation.
It's very sobering. This is a yardstick against which to measure a
problem. If you think you have a problem to deal with, sorry but you
don't - at least not compared to this. No, this ... is a
problem to deal with. As I take it all in (and given it's
scope, it's almost impossible to take it all in) I notice
something flabbergasting. What I notice is the people of Christchurch
rebuilding their fallen central business district. Some
seriously damaged yet still standing buildings are braced by huge steel
frames until they can be reinforced and completely repaired.
Reconstruction of others is already under way. Others are seemingly
intact (outwardly at least) yet marked for future demolition. A very
modern, brand new, attractive apartment building looks completely
unscathed. Surveyors' tests show it's moved a mere thirty
centimeters off plumb level. It's condemned and will come
The magnitude of the task is simply gargantuan. Yet the people of
Christchurch are fully
and are doing it anyway. It's inspiring, totally inspiring. And in
spite of myself, I have the thought "But what if there's
another earthquake after they rebuild?".
Clearly the people of Christchurch aren't paying much
to my thoughts - and they're especially not listening to
that one. They're rebuilding. That's what they're doing.
It's what they do. On that score alone, this is surely one of
the most awesome, big-hearted, brave, courageous human spectacles I've
ever come across, one which touches me and
me and inspires me deeply.
and I walk on ... and on ... and on. Our thoughts of renting a car and
south island exploring the country (one of our original ideas of what
to do here) gradually fade and disappear. There's no need. Everything
we want is right here: companionship,
relationship, and enough inspiration and possibility to thrust an
Atlas 5 rocket out of Earth's atmosphere.
nowhere else I'd rather
nothing else I'd rather
than strolling slowly along, amblin' along,
along this in the process of being rebuilt destroyed
boulevard in Christchurch's savagely bruised but not knocked out
central business district with
my best friend.
Listen: this background, this scene of almost inconceivable destruction
isn't your usual backdrop for
I'll grant you that. But that's because
isn't a quality you can always easily see in the circumstances around
is a quality
and I bring to these circumstances.