I was awake for an hour or so yesterday morning before I remembered what day it was the anniversary of. One year since the first earthquake. One year since our lives were first tipped upside down and given a hell of a rattle. One year since the silt, since the cracked chimneys, since the world we thought we knew turned out to be something entirely different.
How does it feel? Weird. Odd. Because it isn’t really one year since – the quakes are still happening, and I don’t know that any of us believe any more that there aren’t big ones to come. Before February? Yes. Before June? Yes, although slightly less confidently. Post June? No. Definitely no. The slider is sagging in a combination of tiredness and resignation over the line marked “when” rather than “if”.
So much has changed, it’s mad. It’s as though that first enormous heave of the earth was some kind of gigantic labour pain, and the people of Canterbury have been reborn en mass into this new, unstable and frequently frightening world.
And earthquakes are so incredibly other. A storm is one thing: you can understand them, and usually get some warning of their arrival. And a storm feels somehow more alive and aware than a quake. You can fight a storm: yell at it, grit your teeth and ride it out. Swear at it. Shake your fist and hiss defiance into the wind. Even drought – soul-destroying as it is – isn’t like this. Ok, you’re just as powerless against it, but you can at least see it coming, and you can understand what is going on.
But an earthquake is different. There’s no warning. There is no sign that you can look out for. There’s nothing you can prepare for; or estimate a duration of; or even fight. And one thing that I never realised before (and which I’d be willing to bet body parts on most people in New Zealand also not realising yet) is that it isn’t an earthquake. Not just one event to survive: one nightmare to endure. Not even one very long, grueling, backbreaking slog to get out of. It is thousands of repeats, at utterly unpredictably-varying levels of severity. (29 shocks of magnitude 5 or greater since September 2010.) Every time the house starts to rattle, I don’t know if it’s going to keep building and building, or if my life is in danger … or if it’s nothing. Just a truck going past. And there is a huge range of misery in between those two points, and it’s something that people in Canterbury are going through every single day. And I’m one of the lucky ones – Southbridge has managed to ride out the worst of the shakes without much damage. So I know that I have not experienced so much as the ante-room to the misery of people who have been living with silt every day; or without power for weeks at a time; or still with no sanitation.
And I also know that I am just as vulnerable: and that the next rumble could be a new fault-line running under my indecently comfortable life.
One year on, this is my appeal to those of you from outside Canterbury. Your support, and messages of love and comfort have been a lifeline. But we still need them. We haven’t even begun the work of rebuilding our city yet. I know you’re all getting sick of hearing earthquake stories – trust me, we’re just as sick of telling them. But we still need so much help to get us through this. So if you’re reading this, please, we still need your help. What you do is up to you. It could be as simple as donating money. Or the next time you buy something, make it from a Canterbury business. Or book a holiday here – yes, we’re still having shakes. But believe me when I say to you that there is no place on this planet as well practiced at dealing with the after-effects.
Or the simplest thing of all – reach out. Community is the one gift that the earthquake has given us. A reminder that most people are decent and kind, and that when everything else falls apart, help and support can come from absolutely anywhere. Looking back on the last twelve months, I am so damn proud of the people of this province. Amazed, and fiercely proud. And so grateful for the compassion of strangers – all of y0u who have helped, who have asked, who have offered, who have listened.
So mark this anniversary, send a postcard to someone you know in Canterbury. Send a cyber-hug. Phone a friend. Let people know that you haven’t forgotten, that you’re still there, and compassion-fatigue hasn’t won. That we’re all still standing, and standing together.