In Honor of Christchurch, and Notre Dame of Paris

Christchurch, New Zealand is a city that I will always fondly remember, as the gateway to all the glorious adventures I’ve had in South Island.

Two disasters took place there in recent memory: the earthquake of 2011, and the mass-shooting at two mosques on March 15 of this year.

I wanted then to express my shock and grief here on the front page of this site, as soon I could – as I have done so in the past. I decided not to, realizing that it would amount to a well-intended but self-centered exclamation of “yes-I-was-there-before.” It would not honor the memories of the lives lost, let alone justify the juxtaposition of two very different tragedies: one a natural catastrophe that anyone living along the Pacific Rim can relate to, the other a heinous hate crime referred henceforth as the 9/11 of New Zealand.

My stance is now tempered somewhat, when I hear people from all over the world expressing their shock and grief over the near-destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, because they were there before. Imagine our collective sigh of relief when we saw how valiantly the fire fighters kept the beloved 850-years-old building structurally intact, after the collapse of the central spire and roof. Imagine how President Macron kept our hopes up, when he promised a full restoration in five years, in time for the Olympics.

Paris, and France as a whole, have had their share of calamitous headlines in recent years as well. When I posted a commentary titled "The Banality of Terror" in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Nice, I was already aware how disingenuous that would sound, coming from an American tourist who would voice his petulance over having his holiday memories of the French Riviera marred by unpleasant current events.

Seeing Our Lady of Paris in flames is like watching the Pyramids crumble in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in ruins, or the Statue of Liberty toppled. This sheer agony has not been lost to movie makers, whose apocalyptic scenes only reassured us that such improbable events would occur only as science fiction...that is, until we saw the Taliban blowing up the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan, and ISIL vandalizing the ancient ruins of Palmyra.

We now know how much we cherish these places, because we know what it's like to lose them.

Though I visited Notre Dame with the reverence of a pilgrim, and recognized the historical role of western missionaries that gave the South Island city its name, I knew then as I do now that these places are hallmarks of civilization, transcending nationalities, cultures and religions.

Perhaps, with that said, it would not be so self-indulgent of me to reminisce: lighting a votive candle, ascending the steps of both bell towers to see the gargoyles (and that view of the city!), and buying a set of wooden rosary beads, which I still have by my bedside.

Now, along with that thought, I remembered the fine English breakfast of tea, toast, sausage, eggs and homemade orange marmelade, on one austral summer morning in Christchurch. I may be stretching the symbolism a bit here, but that simple wholesomeness was everything I love about the city and its people, with whom I shall forever share their joys and sorrows.


- CW, 17 April 2019




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