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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Preserving good will can lead to better times ahead

Preserving good will can lead to better times ahead

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2011
OPINION: You may take the girl out of the small town, but you can't take the small town out of the girl. I'm jam making, and soon I'll be chutney making, soldiering on with keeping my mind off distressing things.

If you can't control big events such as disasters, at least you can bake biscuits, or watch hot fruit and sugar bubbling away and smelling delicious, and have something to show for it in the end.

It makes me, as a Wellingtonian, feel less useless.

I have a row of jam soldiers cooling in the kitchen right now, in fresh new jars and lids. They're an odd but good-tasting mixture of cheap Black Doris plums and even cheaper little strawberries from Sunday's outdoor market. The week before I found damsons there, overlooked by other rummagers, who only notice how small and unglamorous they look, and pass them by. I have Greytown blackcurrants and raspberries in the freezer waiting to be processed next, and then I'll start making tomato relish.

A box of such offerings will be my homecoming gift to a friend who's stuck in the misery of Christchurch. There's not a lot else I can do for her at the moment.

Disasters knock you off your private axis. You feel anxiety in the pit of your stomach that's part empathy – shared knowledge of suffering – and part the awakened knowledge that life and death are dealt out at random, and you can enter oblivion without warning.

There's nothing fair about it: good people and bad alike are taken, the old survive and babies die, and everyone who was there will be marked for ever.

More than that, the quake will nudge itself into countless families' collective memories for generations to come.
Empathy ties people together wherever we are, giving us the imagination to put ourselves in the place of others, and hopefully remember to be kind. But in some people there's a malfunction. Something quite different happens.

I'm in the middle of reading a book about the nefarious goings-on in the background to London's Blitz during the last war. Shysters, criminals and looters were operating then, too, though the British remember their endurance during that horrific bombing as one of their finest hours – which it probably also was.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, in human behaviour as well as natural forces.

While heroes are doing what heroes do in Christchurch, then, thieves have targeted homes of people who've already lost everything, and there have been crank calls to stretched emergency services from people whose motives are baffling.

We love our heroes – and I mean everyone working to find whatever life may remain in the city's ruins, or to find the dead, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, and all of it willingly.

The equal and opposite to that is shocked abhorrence at people who behave badly in adversity, putting themselves first at all costs, and riding roughshod over other people's heartbreak.

What strange inner lives those people must lead. All the stolen goods in the world, and all the wild goose chases they might send rescuers on, couldn't ever make up for what they lack.

Maybe they're in denial about the seriousness of the situation. Maybe they're just rotten people. Possibly it's also been too much for many other people to cope with.

That surely must lie behind the grumbling about media coverage of the unfolding disaster as a "reality show", stressing the number of deaths and casualties. What other news priority should there be, I wonder?

I've also read a grumble in a newspaper letters column about the likely shared cost of the quake to all New Zealanders.

Well, I've seen nothing but respectful media coverage, delivering the truth about what a disaster means. That isn't exploitation, but shared, painful knowledge, and I admire the reporters, cameramen, photographers and TV anchor people who've managed to do their job when everything around them was falling to pieces. And to begrudge Christchurch financial help is plain nasty.

Bad things happen. We need to know about them, even if it's upsetting. And when it all gets too much you can always get together a preserving pan, some fruit, sugar and clean jars, and invest, in however minuscule a way, in better times ahead.

You've got to believe they're coming.

- The Press

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