I’m back after my mammoth overseas journey of six weeks. Everything about this trip was oversized, and projected in technicolour: the distances, the emotions, the experiences. I’m very glad to be home, and back to some semblance of normalcy.
Except that it isn’t, quite. Normal, I mean. The end of the voyage was overshadowed by natural disasters – first and literally by the drifting ash cloud from the Chile volcano, which put paid to my Jet star ticket, and then, on the day after my arrival, by reports of magnitude 5.5 and 6.0 earthquakes in Christchurch. I’m refusing at this point to call them aftershocks.
My first thought on hearing the earthquake news was for fantasy writer Helen Lowe, who lives in Christchurch and has just recently won the Sir Julius Vogel award for her novel, ‘The Heir of Night’. Since September 2010, Helen has quietly carried on with life – and continued to write – through two major earthquakes and countless minor ones, showing along with her fellow citizens in that part of the country remarkable resolve, strength and tenacity in the face of very difficult circumstances.
It isn’t just the fear of loss of life and limb; the continual worry that this time, or next time, the house might not survive; the fear that this time, or next time, a loved one might suffer. It isn’t just the grueling lack of basic amenities, the long months without a working toilet or shower, the repairs and endless, endless clean-up of godawful ‘liquefaction’. It’s finding the spirit and strength necessary, despite this situation, to engage in meticulous creative work, in the highly specialised discipline of novel-writing. I don’t know how people like Helen do it. I wouldn’t have the tenacity, frankly. I’d run away.
So this is just a reflection on the many quiet, strong spirits in the world, who manage to pull off feats of endurance the rest of us can only marvel at. They live, work and continue to create in spite of it all, whether they are in an earthquake zone in Japan or New Zealand, or in the streets of Damascus, or in a prison cell in Tehran. I am in awe of these people. They are real. They exist. I am privileged to know a few of them.
Kia kaha, Christchurch.