EXTRACT | Long Time, No See? Christchurch

Posted on 16/12/2013

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During my visit to Christchurch this year, where I did some work towards Fieldworking, I met up with some friends and friends of friends to run an informal Long Time, No See? engagement. I’ve just received an email from one of the participants and have been working on my Fieldwriting text and this prompted me to revisit that walking path and my comments.

The final point in the walk asks for a hand print and a message for the future …

Having forgotten to bring some chalk with me, I had been trying to figure out how to make a hand print in the immediate surrounds. There was a small patch of sand on the ground. As I pressed my hand into it, a man stopped on the footpath and asked, ‘are you doing a project?’ A conversation begins and we spend the next hour – maybe more – standing on the footpath and talking. Construction sounds echo around us. I am keen to hear about his experiences and he tells me about the earthquake in Christchurch, the devastation, the failures of planning and consultation. He says the people have been disenfranchised. Then he tells me about having lost his business and, sadly, his spouse to cancer. So much has happened with one event after another – crisis after crisis, loss after loss. He is standing with me talking about his days spent in his community, where he participates in all kinds of activity, but he doesn’t believe in the rhetoric about resilience. I wonder if he has a point, with authorities promoting community resilience as a way of abrogating of responsibility. He has lost faith and trust in institutions which have treated so many people unkindly – insurance, government, banks. They give very little only to take so much. He is worried for the future – it’s a worry we share – smiling and nodding. Together on the footpath, sharing this story, we are worried for the future. Yet, having lost so much, this man tells me that he wants to spend his days protesting – he is now 65 and retired – making sure that the treasured ecology and landscapes are protected. He has a plan sketched out – it is generous and giving – though it is his plan and so I won’t tell you too much. However, he says that he can rearrange his life, participating in protests and sharing his modest resources as part of a movement to protect this place. He brought me grief and joy at once. I am so grateful, so touched, so moved in this moment. I share it with you because there will be days when you too are overwhelmed by ruin and a stranger will invite you in their dreams, their days and their life. And you will accept that invitation and be beautifully surprised by the life and possibility they share with you. You will thank them and wish them luck and hope to see them again. One day.

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