Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I ♥ New Zealand...and More Specifically Some People Who Live There!

It’s obviously been ages since I posted anything. It’s not for lack of wanting--I have wanted more than anything to start writing stuff down, but the last couple of weeks have been INSANE. And I mean that in a good way. I have about fifteen stories floating around in my head, and part of the reason I haven’t posted anything is because I can’t decide what I want to post first. It’s the opposite of writer’s block.

I don’t want to be a bummer, but I feel like there’s one thing I need to write about that isn’t so fun before I can move on to all the superdupergreat things that I’ve been thinking about. So, please bear with me in this moment.

Last week, the news channels blipped for a few hours about an earthquake in New Zealand. Scratch that--an aftershock. A few months ago, there was a massive earthquake (7.2 on the Richter scale), and since then there have been over 2,000 aftershocks, one of which (on Monday night EST) registered a 6.3 on the Richter scale. The first earthquake got a little bit of press, mostly used as a comparison with Haiti’s earthquake. Despite the fact that the earthquake in New Zealand was bigger than Haiti’s, New Zealand, a first world country with a massively organized infrastructure, had fared so much better than Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Haiti had received a good amount of air time for a few months due to the major humanitarian crisis. Most people had completely forgotten about New Zealand’s earthquake within a week because the damage had been “minimal” and no one had been killed. Unfortunately, I’m not different than most people--I helped organize some relief supplies early on for Haiti, and after checking with my dear friends, April (you might remember her from this) and Lane Perry and Art Atkinson who live in Christchurch, I haven’t really thought much about either earthquake.

When I heard about the aftershock on Monday night through a BBC update on my phone, I had an underwhelming response...something like, “I should probably Facebook Art and April and Lane to make sure they’re okay.” By the time I got home, there were already reports of dozens of people dead and hundreds missing. All of a sudden I was panicked and joined the ranks of people leaving messages on their FB walls, “Send us a message to let us know you’re okay!” Inside, I was sick. (Coincidentally, one of my best friends, Ali, and her daughter, Emilja, had flown there to visit Ali’s husband while he was working in New Zealand the same week, so I started praying for them, too.)

After putting the boys to bed, I hopped back on Facebook looking for some kind of response from them and got nothing. There is nothing scarier than hearing that people have died right where people you love live. It brought back emotions from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. My family and I were traveling for a funeral, and when we arrived at the hotel, we turned on the TV to find the story plastered all over every channel. We had a difficult time getting through to anyone for a couple of days, leaving us wondering if all of our friends who worked downtown were okay. In the end, most were. Some were not.

About an hour later, I got a private message from Art that he was actually in San Diego and that April and Lane were on a flight from New Zealand to California as well. The three of them were on their way to Orlando to surprise their dad who was accepting an award at a conference for his company, and they hadn’t told anyone they were coming to the U. S. because they didn’t want him to find out. In the meantime, everyone who knew and loved them was trying to find them to make sure they were okay. (I will write the rest of that story later, but right now I don’t want to shift focus.)

Fast-forward to today, I got a HeyTell (super awesome app that works like a walkie-talkie, so that you can communicate with friends overseas without having to charge minutes--best app ever!!!) message on my phone from April this afternoon. They had literally just walked into their house. Everything was relatively undisturbed, considering the damage done to the rest of Christchurch.

While they were in the United States, April had gotten several messages from friends describing the area as a “war zone,” where people were living without electricity or running water and having to dig holes to go to the bathroom. Most people had evacuated the city. When April and Lane’s pastor drove by their house, he HeyTelled them to let them know their house was still standing. After having their landlord check it out, they learned the house was livable and actually had electricity and water. While Art, Lane, and April were in the United States, they sent word to their closest friends that they could stay at their house until things got better.

April’s very drowsy message said there were a few broken things, but the damage was actually less this time around than after the first earthquake. She said she was really tired from their 50 hours of travel and dealing with some serious survivor’s guilt.

This whole situation has been a reminder to get my head out of my self-absorbed, oblivious world and pay attention to something else other than what’s getting me down today. As much as I love the immediateness of having a computer and a smart phone and 24-hour news coverage, the reality is that all those things have made me less aware of the world around me. After the story is run at the beginning and end of the news hour, after I click on a link and browse a heartbreaking story, my brain has a way of telling me I’ve done my part by “being aware” of what’s happening. And in as much time as it took me to read the story, I forget about it, while the people who are actually living with it continue to struggle with the aftermath.

If I’m going to truly be aware, I need to be aware of this: other people’s tragedy is not other people’s tragedy. It’s my tragedy. I could very easily be on the other end of this story if a hurricane were to come through SC right now, and it breaks my heart to think that millions of people would click on a link about me while they’re waiting in line at Starbucks and then forget to finish reading the story because someone texted them about dinner plans.

My heart is with my NZ friends family right now. I want them to know that someone is aware that the story hasn’t ended even though the news has moved on to Charlie Sheen’s insane rants.

Sorry for the Debbie Downer post--I promise to deliver on some serious hilarity soon. Let’s just take a moment (or maybe a few moments) to live with this for now.


  1. I think the information age is a double-edged sword. We are informed quickly about a variety of things, but it puts us into information overload. It is difficult to feel empathy when bombarded by so many sad stories and international incidents every day.

  2. @Ariel, you are so right--and I try really hard to find the balance. It can be really overwhelming, and I have a hard time not getting bogged down by the big picture.

    @Sarah, takes one to know one, dude.

  3. A very important message. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad your friends are all okay.

  4. This message is still in my head now with all of the devastation in Japan. I feel like one minute people are telling their Twitter or Facebook friends to pray for Japan and the very next they are sharing baking recipes or excitement over a concert or gushing about a celebrity obsession. Really?!

  5. Thanks, Debby! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one frustrated. It's really hard!!!