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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Earthquake has brought out our nice side

Earthquake has brought out our nice side

Last updated 09:48 07/10/2010
PHILIP BALDWIN responds to a Press columnist's discomfort at Canterbury being considered a charity case following the earthquake.

With some dismay I read Martin van Beynen's calculated condemnation of the "spoily things" distributed by World Vision and the Salvation Army in these pages (Charity should not begin at home, Oct 2).

Two weeks beforehand I might have had more sympathy with his views. In Darfield we received some of this aid. In my case it was delivered by a well-spoken young man from the Sudan: a Christian, possibly a refugee from his home country, working as a missionary in New Zealand.

"How ironic!" I thought. "And how much do local people, who have hardly suffered any physical deprivation because of the earthquake, need these care packages?"

But since then I have heard more and more anecdotes from people who have experienced, or recognised, post-earthquake stress in themselves, their families and their friends or co-workers.

Among them, a bright young woman who was unable to sleep in her own home, although it suffered no damage, because of anxiety over continuing aftershocks; a local farmer who seemed fine for a week after the first tremors, only to sink into a kind of aimless lethargy later, unable to focus on any one task; a friend who was badly embarrassed at a petrol station: she had just pumped her tank full and discovered she had uncharacteristically left her wallet-identification and credit cards at home and would not be allowed to leave before she paid.

Another friend likes the expression "earthquake brain", which some people find helpful in describing a sudden inability to make things compute as easily as they used to.

Many Cantabrians certainly need physical aid in rebuilding homes and businesses, but among us there are also people who need emotional, psychological and spiritual aid, and the two groups do not entirely overlap.

While the cracks in a building are relatively easy to see, the fractures in one's psyche may be less apparent, but they are no less real. Finding those who are part of this second group is not always an easy job and the shotgun approach to reaching them, while certainly inefficient, is expected to find some, to show them that there are people who care.

Those who are depressed or anxiety-ridden from aftershock-related lack of sleep do not always believe that other people care.

My wife quite correctly interpreted the box of supplies we received as a pick-me-up, a tangible expression of concern, rather than a gift of necessities. Nonetheless, we were in a position to find people who needed the body wash and chocolate more than we did.

Perhaps, as van Beynen writes, "We are morally obliged to take care of things ourselves".

He applauds the independent, "can do" spirit of Kate Carran, who is out looking for work herself, not waiting for help from the government to find it for her.

And this is certainly praiseworthy for those who have the physical, financial and emotional resources to imitate her efforts. Fortunately, though, the bright young woman I mentioned above has a sympathetic co-worker who has offered temporary lodging to her colleague, and is willing to help her find a way through her anxiety.

The farmer has a caring wife and Federated Farmers to support him.

My friend was most thankful that the person behind her in the queue handed her Visa card to the cashier and said: "I'll pay for her petrol and my own".

These are times when we can be grateful for the small acts of kindness-charity in the truest meaning of the word shown to us.

I wonder if the Tongan gift represents just this kind of understanding: we are not always able to take care of things by ourselves. Their generous gift from the heart nicely parallels a situation described by the apostle Paul where some Macedonian Christians, regardless of their own poverty, gave a generous financial offering for the aid of fellow believers in Jerusalem.

And just as Paul then challenges Christians in Corinth to give out of their abundance, Bishop Victoria Matthews has called her flock to give generously for the rebuilding of earthquake- ravaged Haiti.

There is a nuance to her appeal that van Beynen may have missed: the bishop does not ask donors to give in isolation, but in community: "If one hundred dollars is what you can give, find nine others who can do the same and together make a gift of one thousand dollars. We can do this together".

As a community that has been spared the magnitude of devastation and loss of life that Haiti suffered, Bishop Matthews reminds us to give out of our abundance and thankfulness for our blessings.

At a local level there have already been many examples of this generous community spirit.

A young man and his mother are planning to walk from Darfield to Christchurch, and they are looking for sponsors so they can contribute to the re- building of St John's Church, Hororata, which has become an icon of the earthquake's destructive power in Canterbury.

Some shop owners in the city have given over a part of their trading space to neighbours, and in one case, even a competitor!

In a light-hearted touch, two young ladies made a project of evaluating the condition of the Portaloos in their neighbourhood.

Judging by our local media overall, Cantabrians seem to prize the virtues of generosity, cooperative re- building and mutual support in neighbours, friends, even strangers.

New Zealanders have historically shown themselves to be generous givers in the face of natural disasters and desperate need overseas.

My hope and prayer is that Canterbury's Anglicans will raise at least $100,000 for Haiti and prove van Beynen's doubts about reaching Bishop Matthews' target wrong.

We have shown ourselves to be a community that pitches in to help in times of need, and one that can graciously receive well- intentioned aid.

Now is our opportunity to give out of the abundance we enjoy, sharing some of our blessings with those who have much less.

* Philip Baldwin has lived in Darfield since October 2009, when he moved from London, Ontario, Canada.

- The Press

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