Mandir was .. a little bit tense tonight; and was closing early, for understandable reasons.
The world has gotten a little bit darker. At least, from our perspective down here in Kiwiland.
That is to say – I’m fully aware that this sort of apprehensiveness is deplorably, “life normal” for many people in many other parts of the world, day in and day out.
Yet we are not used to it here. We have often felt safe – that the issues which plague the “rest of the world” are so remote, separated from us by thousands of kilometers of ocean, and the glass of our TV screens or the fibre of our internet cables.
Indeed, even the introductory news of this afternoon’s occurrences had a bit of that to it. It *Had* Happened Here. But it was in Christchurch, right? A few hundred kilometers, and the Cook Strait away. And after all – “Thar Be White Supremacists”.
[Note: that is not intended as a dig at Christchurch – which has been through a huge spectrum of suffering these past eight years.]
It’s only once the vague congealment of anxiety and surprise at reading the initial newspaper coverage, is overwritten by the specific shock of the TV and internet news broadcasts – wherein we find, to our horror, that victims, bystanders, first responders, heroes, and others caught up in the tumult … may speak with Kiwi accents, may be standing in streets, in front of architecture and road-signs and cop-cars and ensigns, that we recognize … – that things truly start to feel “familiar”.
And by that, I mean absolutely, nightmarishly *unfamiliar*, precisely because it is what we are used to seeing and hearing, in the places we are used to seeing and hearing them, but through atrocity, near-completely and utterly divorced from that warm sense of comfort which the ‘familiar’ customarily elicits.
Yet even then, with our hearts and our headspaces going out in train to our countrymen and our guests; unless we are personally affected by it (and it was interesting hearing a senior Newshub journalist who’d just arrived in Christchurch noting that he’d been picked up from the airport by his brother, who was just about to go grab his nephew from lockdown), there’s still a certain sense of the “abstract” to it.
We hope and we pray that “it” won’t come any closer.
That’s understandable, in the extreme. And precisely because these are extreme circumstances that we are witnessing – it feels somehow eerily ‘dissonant’ with the relative calm for us out here elsewhere in the rest of the country.
Yet at Mandir tonight [and for those of you who for some reason *aren’t* conversant with basic Hindu religious terminology .. that’s a Temple] , with the curtains all unseasonably drawn, closing time brought forward, an eye kept upon the perimeter, and a number of those who were there having that extra-electric “everything’s alright” carefully-“cheerfully”-charged demeanour of the sort that actually evinces a deep-seated unease which cannot be allowed to be outwardly vocalized [perhaps partially, because white supremacist types are not often known for their faculties of discernment, when it comes to telling apart the perceived “non-white” religions] …
… well, I guess what I’m trying to say is – without a shot being fired (that I’m aware of) in Auckland, and without the police presence that, say, the Avondale Mosque currently has camped outside it …
It’s those ‘little things’ that ‘bring it home’, a bit. That, as I say, the world seems a little bit darker, even here at the other end of the country, tonight.
Obviously, this is absolutely inconsequential in comparison to the suffering being experienced in Christchurch.
The only candle it can hold to it is one of shared grief and memorializing. And maybe, just maybe, seeking to illuminate some of New Zealanders’ better nature in shared feelings of support and solidarity with same.
Yet it is a curious thing: as I approached Mandir from the east, down Balmoral Road, with the Sun setting behind it over the Waitakeres …I noticed that the flag atop the spire seemed a triangle of black. Usually, even when silhouetted by the Sun, it retains its Saffron-coloured hue.
On the eve of World War One, the then-British Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, remarked that “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
New Zealand has often seemed almost an “ark” against the tumult and the current of iniquity which so readily floods global affairs.
We can but hope that those fundamentally, quintessentially Kiwi characteristics of an inexorable resiliency of spirit and cast-iron commitment to community, mean that at least here – here of all places, in what should otherwise be (but sadly, often isn’t), “the best of all possible worlds” – “the lights” may be dimmed somewhat … but that they do not , *cannot* , go out in perpetuity.
It is clear, from what has been said by the abominations responsible for these attacks, that they chose us as a target *precisely because* we are free and we are good-natured.
Precisely because, we have hitherto been spared – despite occasional quite serious provocation – from the rampancy of hard-hearted and steely-eyed “security-mindedness” that so dominates so many other parts of the world (whether London with its “ring of steel”, and omnipresent surveillance cameras, or fast food restaurants in the United States being equipped with bulletproof glass, etc.).
And precisely because, lest there be any doubt about this, we have such a society wherein the ‘problems’ of the outside world – around racially- or religiously- motivated murders, attempted ethnic- or religious- “cleansing”, or whatever else these crimes bear a certain resemblance to … wherein these things have hitherto seemed largely (but not entirely, to be sure) absent from our shores.
If we wind up more like the various Anglosphere etc. countries wherein these things *are* a much more common and even almost “accepted” “fact of life” , which is what the mini-minds of maleficence behind this seem to dearly wish we become … then needless to say, they will, in a striking sense, have “won”.
The New Zealand National Character has always been somewhat ‘dour’ – even, at times, allegedly “gloomy”. [Colin McCahon’s paintings, rather than the Black of our national colour, may be the better evidence for this, perhaps]
Yet it has generally also been resoundingly compassionate, and almost incandescently innovative, into the bargain.
In some ways, it is just what you would expect , from a nation whose almost every constituent, either came here themselves, or is descended from those who did, motivated and fuelled by the desire for – the hope and aspiration for – a better life, here, than could be found in those times amidst the often nightmarish and bereftly barren quarters, of so much of the rest of the world. (Seriously – Industrial-era Victorian England, does NOT sound like an ideal place to be!)
It is those values which shall see us through. And, more than “hopefully” – which shall damn near *certainly* see us find a way to “keep the lights on” here, for years – for decades – for perpetuity, to come.
I shall resist the temptation to make a joke about utilizing number eight wire as a filament.
As the National Anthem states, and no matter perhaps whom we’re identifying with the personhood of providence within it …
“God Defend Our Free Land”: –
“God Defend New Zealand”.