I drove in a total daze today. The last time I felt like this was September 12, 2001,* the day of the World Trade Center attacks.
And then I learned a colleague I had met was among the dead in the CTV building.
I felt ashamed. Ashamed that Donna Manning was not someone who was top of my list of people to text when the earthquake happened.
After the ﬁrst lot of friends all responded to say they were OK, I was playing the probability game: that if seven out of seven were ﬁne, then it would likely stand that the percentage would hold if I contacted eight.
But, I tried to tell myself, I only met Donna once, on November 11, 2009. It’s not like we were best friends.
Yet in those few hours I thought she was a tremendously nice lady, professional, and respectful.
I grabbed her card, which I still have, with the hope that we would continue to keep in touch.
So it’s a bit hard to explain why I feel a friend has been taken from me—even though it was someone I only met brieﬂy.
Maybe someone can be a friend even on the briefest of meetings. I say to my friends living on the other side of the world that our friendships remain strong, even if we only see each other once every decade. We catch up as though no time has passed.
And Donna Manning, in her accommodating, welcoming manner, realizing she had a guest and colleague from out of town, might be one of those people who you feel that level of connection with, quickly.
It’s not a desire to “belong” to a tragedy. I ruled that out quickly. I counted myself as lucky that those I knew well were all OK. I lost a friend and colleague in the London attacks on July 7, 2005, and I didn’t feel a longing to be “part” of it. I didn’t blog about it much, and kept my feelings to myself and our mutual friends. I was sorry I lost a friend, and I felt the pain his widow had when she was searching for news of him. Maybe a terrorist bombing seemed so unreal, while earthquakes are something that are known to us Down Under.
This case, I think, is part of the humanity in all of us: while we were lucky enough not to have experienced the Christchurch earthquake ﬁrst-hand, we feel a sense of unity with those who did.
This is not anything to do with nationality, as the international rescue crews have ably demonstrated by rushing to our aid. Whether they are our Australian brothers and sisters, or whether they have ventured here from Japan, the Republic of China, or Singapore, or even further aﬁeld, they see people to help and tasks to do.
Just as we in New Zealand felt for those in Haïti, or in Australia as ﬂoods, bushﬁres or cyclones reached them in recent times.
Now, we want Cantabrians to know that we might not know what they are going through but we understand loss and grief. We empathize with them for their loss.
When I saw a photograph of Donna’s kids and ex-husband in an Associated Press photograph, my fears were conﬁrmed. I wanted to reach out to tell them just how I felt for them.
I wrote a few words about how I felt at the time, though that’s not much to someone who has lost a mother.
We don’t have a desire to belong to the tragedy because we already belong to the tragedy. It has affected other members of the human race, and that’s qualiﬁes us for immediate membership of this tragedy. They suffer, and we all suffer.
On my Facebook and Twitter accounts, there’s no difference in the sincerity of the writer when they wish the people of Christchurch and the Canterbury region well whether they are locals or Swedish, German, Dutch, American, English, or any other nationality.
On my Tumblr, that universality was felt in one quotation I cited—based on how many people it resonated with.
There’s no difference in the helplessness we feel, whether we are a ferry crossing and a few hours’ drive away, or whether we are 10,000 miles away.
If we could come and bring back your loved ones, we would.
If we could bring back all our colleagues at CTV and The Press, we would.
If we could bring back those Japanese students who perished in that language school, and to have them go home to their Mums and Dads happy for their Kiwi experience, we would.
All because we know our feelings of grief that we felt in our own tragedies and we do not wish them on you.
Yet tonight, the Manning and Gardiner families experience those very feelings of loss.
I grieve for a colleague, and, I would like to say, a friend. Someone who touched me positively in my life.
I am so sorry for you all.
And I am so sorry to all those who are awaiting news, or are dealing with the horrible news that someone has been taken tragically before their time.
I don’t want you to feel this down, but I know you do. And I wish, I truly wish, you didn’t have to go through this.
* In New Zealand, it was already September 12, 2001 when the attacks commenced.