© 2009 Marica

032 – Finding meaning

The clouds had turned black and the first few drops of rain had started to fall. I was weaving my way along the street trying to avoid knocking into people. It was lunch time and there were people everywhere. As I rushed past my favourite bookshop, Unity Books, something caught my eye but I kept moving. Believe me, I need to avoid this shop – it always lures me in with its promise of endless delights and I struggle to leave without clutching at least one new book. I couldn’t stand not knowing what I had seen so I backtracked to take a closer look. Yes, the bookshop managed to get its hooks into me and slowly the reeling in process began.

Written in chalk on the pavement in front of the shop window was a poem by well known and loved New Zealand poet Sam Hunt. As an aside, I’ll have you know that I’ve sat next to Sam Hunt, and his dog Minstrel, during mass once at St Marys of the Angels, many moons ago. I recognised him immediately as his sat down. I even got to share the “peace be with you” hand shake with him. I thought of this as I read his words …

Just now and then there’s meaning –
like when the nor’westers drop.
Before a southerly sets up.
Just now and then, like this morning.

— Sam Hunt (from Doubtless, new and selected poems).

The rain had started to fall but I didn’t move. The words stayed with me as I sought refuge inside the shop (well, that’s the excuse I’m giving you).

The words “meaning” and “morning” kept playing in my head like a broken record. I found myself thinking about a few days earlier, Wednesday morning to be exact, and the meaning behind what happened.

I arrived at work as usual. Turned on my computer and began to read my emails. Very quickly as I read the most recent email in my Inbox I was reminded that nothing is ever “usual” – it may be familiar but it is always different.

The message read …

There is a potential tsunami risk to New Zealand from the 8.3 magnitude earthquake that occurred off the coast of the Samoan Islands at 0648 hours NZDT … people in low-lying areas near the coast should stay tuned to radio stations and be prepared to immediately evacuate if warned by authorities.

As we began to receive regular alerts and updates a new reality unfolded. Would we have to evacuate? As I looked out the window at our beloved harbour I knew how mean it could become, how quickly it could change into something to be feared. Was this going to happen this morning? As New Zealanders worried about whether our coast was going to be struck by a tsunami our Pacific Island neighbours had already experienced the power and devastation from this much feared aftermath of a big earthquake only they had no warning. It was upon them before they could do much more than run as fast as they could. Only running from a wave in normal conditions is generally a futile exercise let alone being faced with a wave up to eight metres high. Imagine the force and the power behind that wall of water.

Stories began to appear in the media of the havoc that had taken place in Samoa. I felt sick.

“Sea disappeared, then swallowed resort.” [Stuff, 30 Sept 2009]

“No water, just coral. The water go back. Very fast we understand it is a tsunami. It’s not low tide – there is a difference … When we go back we see all my resort is gone … We’re very lucky we’re alive.” [Daniela Brussani, 30 Sept 2009, Stuff].

“I went out early in the morning for a surf, then I felt the tremor – you get them all the time in New Zealand so I didn’t really think too much of it – then I went out in the water and caught a few waves … All of a sudden the water went real weird, it kind of glassed off and got real lumpy, then we started moving real quick, getting sucked out to sea … It was pretty scary looking back and seeing the reef completely dried up. It looked like a volcanic riverbed – it was just gone.” [Chris Nel, 2 October 2009, Stuff]

“Family loses 13 members in tsunami.” [Stuff, 2 October 2009]

“After the earthquake we thought there was not going to be a wave … But it happened so fast we couldn’t do anything.” [Sepoima Lauoletolo, 2 October 2009, Stuff]

“The main damage is our relationship with the ocean, which we grew up seeing as our friend and a place where we can fish and swim. That’s going to change forever.” [Samoa’s deputy prime minister Misa Telefoni, 30 October 2009, Stuff]

Sam Hunt’s poem made me reflect on the meaning of what happened on that fateful Wednesday morning.

Stories of horror, heroism, and survival have reminded me of the fragility of human life and our impermanence but also our strength. We think we are indestructible. We’re not. We can be strong. We can be more than we ever imagined and so often in times when we are challenged we discover a part of ourselves that we never knew existed.

There are forces greater than us that will determine our future. It is awful that things have been destroyed but they can be rebuilt – and they will be. What is irreplaceable is the loss of life. Children and adults – they were loved by someone. They mattered. They were important. They are now lost and can’t be returned. Things have gone unsaid. There may be regrets. There will be questions. People will be asking why? There will also be the joy of the things that have been experienced rather than just dreamed about. Memories are now all that are left. Thank goodness they have these.

Someone is grieving for the loss of a loved one tonight – taken from them without warning. Tragedies like this are happening every day all over the globe. Only this time it was much closer to home for me. It is a reminder that it doesn’t just happen to other people. We are all vulnerable. This could be us today or tomorrow. We’ll never know when.

Tell the people you love that they matter to you. Show them what they mean to you. This moment might be your last chance to do so.

By the way, I left the bookshop with not one but three books and I went back later to get one other thing. This bookshop knows how to fish – they baited the hook, threw out the line, had a nibble, got a bite, reeled me in, and released me ready for another fresh new day. They are well seasoned at the tag and release process.

05. Every day is now. The present moment.
18. Every day express love. Some people need to hear it. Most people need to see it. Don’t take it for granted.
39. Every day trust that there is a bigger picture. You are a part of it even if you may not know what it is.