Not the One I Was Writing

I was writing a post the other day with some positive updates on my progress but then I saw the news about the terrorist attack in Christchurch and it all went out the window.

We live in times and I live in a place where mass shootings and terrorist attacks that 20 years ago would have been utterly shocking now seem virtually routine. This one however, in the town where I grew up and went to university, shook me. Christchurch has changed immensely since I last lived there, not least because vast swaths of the central city were destroyed in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Each year when I come back at Christmas, I see the city more through visitor’s eyes, yet at the same time some details are always the same. The crushed gravel paths in Hagley Park and the Gardens, the blinding sun yet chilly wind, walking down the stairs in Ballantynes, how the Port Hills look from different vantage points in the city. As long as I have lived away and as much as things have changed I’m still originally from Christchurch. It’s like a part of my genetic makeup.

It was sickening to see such an abhorrent act of violence and loss of life somewhere I have driven and run past many times. A devastating event for a city that is still repairing itself from the earthquakes eight years ago. It’s scant consolation that the shooter is Australian as the truth is that individuals capable of great evil and destruction can sprout anywhere. (Australia does however pull ahead of New Zealand when it comes to utterly dreadful politicians.) As a true 1980s and 1990s child of Christchurch, when I first saw the news, I immediately wondered which high school the shooter had attended. I thought back to boys I knew in high school and uneasily contemplated a couple who I could imagine doing something like this.

Before I realized what I was watching, I inadvertently saw the first 20 seconds or so of the shooter’s video which was embedded in a Twitter post as I searched for updates. It was unspeakably horrible, further dehumanizing the victims whose bodies still lay warm as their murders were disseminated around the world.

One of the uncomfortable truths in all this is that there seems no obvious step that could have prevented this massacre. We cannot secure ourselves against every imaginable evil without sacrificing our humanity and sanity in the process. The larger issue is that in several millennia we still haven’t figured out how to stop dehumanizing other human beings and turning them into an object of our hatred and feelings of inadequacy. Maybe the city and nation’s grief and expressions of fellowship will be enough to assuage fear and anger from festering in the years to come. I think that is all we can really hope for right now.

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