A message from isolation
By Tim J. Veling
“May you live in interesting times”
With the decision by the New Zealand Government to escalate the Covid-19 national threat level from 2 to 3, moving to Level 4 on the 25th of March, it indeed does seem we live in very ‘interesting times’.
While this is undoubtedly a global health catastrophe of unprecedented, immeasurable significance to social-wellbeing, trade and the economy – the entire global community is truly battling this together – for Christchurch the crisis comes on the back of many others, the psychological effects of which still strongly reverberating. These new events will undoubtedly add extra layers of complexity to an already very complex situation.
This is not to say the Covid-19 crisis will hit Cantabrians harder, rather an acknowledgement that levels of resilience of those who have lived through successive emergency events may be very much depleted. As history has proven however, in times such as these our local communities have generally met challenges head on and presented a united front. With the entire country entering into at least a four-week lockdown period, I hope this continues to hold true. We need to exercise common sense and caution in the way we treat and interact with people if we are to contain the virus, but above all we must demonstrate empathy and compassion for one another. Forced isolation shouldn’t need to undermine a positive and collective sense of belonging and human connection. Fundamentally, this is where we will find strength and how we will hasten recovery. In this sense, modern technology is a blessing.
With this in mind, I will be taking as much time as I can during the coming weeks to upload new work to the Place in Time website, starting with 35 oral history stories of displaced Avonside residents written by Glenn Busch. Distilled from interviews conducted by Busch in the years following the Canterbury earthquakes, these stories are testament to the human spirit, collective good-will and physical as well as emotional strength of people in the aftermath of disaster. Collectively, they speak of human kindness and connectedness, and to the significance of place and people to memory. They speak of many contradictory feelings in the face of forced, rapid change, such as love, grief, disappointment, hope, anger, fear and faith. While these interviews were born out of the need to record and help give agency to the voices of a small community of people during a specific period of time and vulnerability, it is our belief that they convey a sentiment and message very much relevant to the mood of today.
My own personal reflection on the current situation is complex. I am writing this in my home office, surrounded by personal artefacts – the most prominent of which is a cartoon drawing of my father that leans against the wall to the right of my computer monitor. It is five years to the day that my father passed away from a short battle with lung cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t pick up my phone and think about calling him. His ashes are kept in a box in our living room, waiting for the time when my family and I can travel to The Netherlands to scatter them alongside his mother’s grave in Zeeland – a pinch of which he made me promise to hold back and scatter in Feyenoord Stadium. He was / is a staunchly proud Amsterdammer, but always the contrarian just had to support the underdog team. He was cremated wearing the Feyenoord players shirt I bought him in an Amsterdam sports shop. The shop assistant that sold it to me told me said it was the first one he’d sold in three years and implored me not to wear it in the street.
I add this element of personal reflection because as individuals we all reference important events to mark the passing of time. I wish I could say the last ten years my life revolved mostly around pivotal, happy moments such as the day I married the love of my life, or the moment I first held our daughter. These are of course massive milestones that I will cherish forever, but if I’m honest, at least at this point in time, life lately has felt more defined such things as the day of the big earthquake; witnessing the last breath my father took while I held tightly to his hand; the moment I heard of the mosque terror attacks and realised such extreme hate existed so close to home. All of these events have distinct before and afters, and I suspect the Covid-19 crisis will be no different. Time will tell…
In the meantime, I hope everyone out there is happy, remains healthy and connected. I will try my best to help with that latter here.
Tim J. Veling