One day in March we got an invite from Antony and Jeanette Raine to fly down to Christchurch with them the following weekend. The main reason was to see Christchurch’s historic cathedral before it was soon to be demolished. The famous cathedral was partially destroyed by the earthquakes that riveted the city in September 2010 and again in February 2011 and there had been much debate on whether or not efforts should be made to save and restore the cathedral. The Raines also knew this would be an insightful trip for Josh since he has been working with the Earthquake Commission and talking to hundreds of people affected and to get a first hand look of the devastation. We agreed to go.
I had mixed emotions of us going on the trip, mainly due to the fact that we knew this was going to be no pleasure cruise, but would be sad to see a city fallen from its former glory. We were glad too, though, to be able to travel and be given a tour from our friends the Raines, as Christchurch is where Antony grew up, and to see the beauty that still remained. The plane tickets were also quite cheap, as Antony had found a good deal, so that was a relief.
We awoke early on Saturday, March 17th, and finished getting our overnight bags ready. It was a beautiful, cloudless day with barely even a breeze to caress our faces. That was comforting, as we had already seen many a rough landings from our flat overlooking the airport in the windy city. I love traveling, as does Josh, but as I’ve said before, flying can make me feel quite nervous. It helped to know that it was just a short one-hour flight, too.
The Raines picked us up, and we drove just a hop, skip, and a jump over to the airport. On the way there, however, Antony mentioned something that made my ears really perk up. He said that thousands of people had been through to see the cathedral, but that everyone had been warned the potential danger in walking through the unstable downtown area and said for everyone to be sure and bring two things: 1) A fully charged cell phone, and 2) a form of personal I.D. on your person . . . in case, well, you know. I can’t remember what exactly I said out loud, “Oh my goodness!” or something like that, but that shocked me and made me wonder if this wasn’t such a good idea. But, then I tried to just not think about it; I don’t always seem to have much power over my mind, though, and my thoughts were running away with me off and on.
We got to the airport and a flood of memories hit both Josh and I again. The last time we were at this airport was the day we first arrived in New Zealand. That seemed like a lifetime ago, and like we were just young kids back then. It’s like going back to your junior high school on the first day and remembering how scared and small you felt and how everything else seemed so big, new, and exciting. The 8th graders; Woah, they were so scary, and COOL! There was so much life and activity and talking and students being reunited with old friends and others meeting for the first time, trying to find someone to walk with and hopefully sit by during 1st period or lunch. Then, when you go back and look at it years and years later, when you’ve even graduated college, and you are in awe and wonder at how it feels to stand in front of your junior high school again, on an empty day in summer when all the students have gone for a long break. You feel so big and grown up now, and like you have really come a long ways since those youthful, naïve days. And yet, it still seems intimidating, maybe because the memory is still there of how you felt that first day of something new; a little seventh grader with faces she’s never seen and a place she’s heard that is so different from elementary school. Without all those faces and teachers, and hearing those obnoxious ringing bells, the school doesn’t seem so scary, though.
So was the feeling I had standing in the Wellington airport. I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. The place seemed empty and quiet. There wasn’t a rush of people to push through and those with signs to show who is waiting for them with their name on it. Everything seemed different, and my memory slowly recognized the little coffee shop we had first passed by with business people sipping their coffee and reading the paper. I remembered how crowded it was that day when we had arrived, and Josh and I holding hands and listening closely to those surrounding us and hearing the New Zealand accent. We were so young then, it seems. Standing there in the quiet, empty halls once crowded with foreign strangers in a rush to get to their destination, it made me feel like we had been in New Zealand for years. We could not believe that it was only four months ago that we had stood in that same place. We’ve done a lot of things, seen a lot of things, and experienced more than I would have ever known had I never gotten on that Air New Zealand plane in San Francisco with my husband that day in November.
Anyways, so the four of us finally found our gate and waited a few minutes for us to start boarding. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait that long, otherwise, well, waiting I just don’t care for. It was a cramped Jet Star plane, but we didn’t mind since the flight was to be short. I was so thankful I sat by the window. We looked out and saw our flat on the hillside in the distance, and couldn’t get over how cool that was! Who would have thought that when we first arrived into Wellington? Take-off was cool, but anxious, as I watched us zoom past the surfers in Lyall Bay; seeing how fast they went past our window made me realize just how fast we were going, yikes! Once we got up in the air, though, I just pressed my nose against the window and peered down below at the city and surrounding area of Wellington. It was breathtaking. It was so neat to see how it looked from up above and see where our house was and the real layout of the land…looks so different and then so small. The buildings became just a little miniature model city with toy cars. And then the deep blue sea with white caps. I saw a couple of fishing boats along the way, which at first I thought there were hundreds, but Josh told me those were just the waves, which really took a while to convince me. We were on the left side of the plane and I kept seeing just the ocean, and I was thinking, where is the land? Haven’t we gotten to the South Island yet? A blonde moment I guess, which I finally realized when they said we were descending into Christchurch, a mere forty-five minutes after we took off. I hadn’t realized that Christchurch was on the coast; I thought it was more inland. Anyways, the flight was short and smooth, which made us happy.
At the airport in Christchurch, Josh and I followed behind Jeanette and Antony. I love being in airports, and just the feeling you get there, more so after you have arrived to your destination and the flying part is over. It was then that I saw people again holding signs and then families and friends being reunited. I got a huge lump in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears. I thought about how wonderful the day would be when we arrive back home in Texas and see our parents and families waiting for us. I can cry just thinking about it right now. I had to really fight back the tears and push the thought away, because it was just so beautiful and heartwarming and emotional to think about. I already knew in my mind that I will definitely be crying when I see my parents again and get to hug them, and my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews Malachi and Noah, and Josh’s family as well. What a happy day that will be!
We then all went to the rental car counter at the airport, and got that all taken care of, and headed out to the car we’d have for our time there. It was a very nice SUV, and I thought it still had a new car smell. The engine ran so quietly and smoothly, we could barely hear it running; a little different from our car! Haha. Outside we noticed the air was clean and pure and the sun was pretty warm too, not a cloud in the sky in Christchurch. Antony then drove us around and was our tour guide. It was very interesting. I loved sitting back there with Josh and listening to Antony’s stories. It was relaxing and cool to be able to sit back and enjoy everything and take in new sights. The landscape was very different from Wellington; it was flat. It was laid out more like cities we were used to, and almost felt like we were back in Texas. It was kind of comforting and we barely even noticed that we were on the opposite side of the road. Most of the houses we noticed also were made of brick instead of wood like in Wellington, and the streets were wider as well. We drove with the windows down, which I really enjoy and I was glad at how peaceful I felt and that I hadn’t been nervous on the flight either. We were pretty hungry, so we stopped and ate lunch at a McCafe. After that, we did a bit more touring, where Antony showed us the school he went to as a kid, which was neat to see. Along the way, we were seeing a few houses that you could see some cracks in and that there was some earthquake damage, and even a couple empty lots where houses used to stand. The most evidence, though, was downtown in the CBD.
Once we arrived in the downtown area, that’s when we really saw the damage. Chain linked fences guarded the sidewalks and several sections of buildings were completely blockaded off and empty. Many windows were cracked or completely gone. The anxiety slowly started seeping into my body as we drove closer and closer to the high-rise buildings. We stared out our windows and just couldn’t believe it. Such a sad sight. We had to park quite a distance away and Antony told us where to meet in case of an emergency. That definitely made me feel nervous again. But seeing all the people who were walking downtown to see the cathedral, I felt a little better (not rationally of course, but it was just reassuring to see a lot of people for some reason). So, we walked and joined the hundreds of people to enter the gates to go through the walk through downtown and to the cathedral. Before we entered the fenced area, there was a sign with numerous warnings, of which we took a picture. I glanced at the sign, but didn’t really read it fully; otherwise, I might have chickened out.
My mood instantly changed and I felt a heavy sadness and lump form in my throat again. There were a couple of handwritten cards and signs and flowers on the fence, which is always heartbreaking to see. Who left that card? And who did they lose? We walked down the street that I know was once filled with cars and people and buses. The buildings on either side of us were abandoned and broken; just empty shells. It was like walking in a war zone. I looked down one street that was barricaded off and paused there for a while. There were many people around us walking by, but sometimes there was a break in the crowd, and Jeanette said, “Just listen.” Silence. Deadly, eerie silence. And then a few jackhammers and drilling of the buildings in the background. Blinking, broken stoplights. Just gave you a really bad feeling. Shops and businesses once were thriving down those empty streets; people sat and drank their tea and coffee and friends chatted. People once were going to and fro, living their lives. In an instant, that all changed. Life was taken.
We kept on walking, and at last reached the area that looked out onto the Cathedral. I remember passing by a couple of middle-aged ladies, who were hugging each other and crying. This building in a huge way represented Christchurch, of which, me, as an outsider, will never fully understand, but can only imagine. It was their history. The beautiful Cathedral had been there since around 1880. New Zealand is a new country, and to have something that old built by the hands of man is pretty remarkable and important. When looking up Christchurch in travel books or online, that image is the first to pop up. The stone architecture was used for many buildings throughout Christchurch, and it gave the city an old-time, European feel. It made me wonder the thoughts and stories of all the people gathered in that cathedral square. All types of people…every race, young and old, some from Christchurch, some travelers from the country and those from abroad. But all gathered around to witness the sight of this crumbling landmark. It was beautiful standing there, even though most of the bell tower was gone, being reduced to two-thirds of its original height, which was about 63 meters tall during its pre-earthquake state. Most of its recognizable features, including the stained glass windows, were shattered and broken. I found myself desperately wishing I had seen it before the earthquake. For many there, this was an icon, something they had seen and known their whole lives, and because of its instability, danger, and ruin, it needed to be demolished.
A few people were gathered in groups, families and friends, talking and laughing and taking pictures, while I noticed others stood alone, in silence, staring up at the cathedral, wearing their sunglasses to hide the tears. There were no smiles on their faces. I felt sympathy for the people, imagining what they have had to go through. All the hundreds of aftershocks, and waiting to know whether they can move back into their homes or not, losing family members or friends, and seeing their city change in an instant, and now, over time as buildings were having to be demolished. Those standing alone who were crying, I wondered what their stories were. What were their memories? I imagined a woman crying because that is where she married her handsome groom a number of years ago, and she cries as she remembers how glorious and perfect everything was on her wedding day. The silent reverie filled inside as she walked down the aisle of those great, magnificent walls in the rainbow filled sanctuary created by the stained glass and looked at the smile on her future husband’s face and tears in his eyes as he beheld his radiant bride.
And this had been a place where people came to worship God. It made me feel sad, and that God was sad too, and that he was powerful. Josh said it made him think how weak man really is, and how powerful God is. That building, a structure made with stones by the hands of man, and that we as people put so much faith in its strength, can be destroyed in mere seconds. This is not saying that God caused this to happen on purpose of course, but that God made the earth, and the earth is powerful and can do things we have no control of. For the earth to just rumble and move beneath our feet shows how helpless, small, powerless, and insignificant we really are. That can be a depressing thought, I guess, but also awe-inspiring and humbling. High-rises made of steel and metal that engineers designed and millions of dollars spent on, can be gone in ten seconds flat. How dare we ever become arrogant and think highly of ourselves, boasting of our intelligence, power, and money, because when you really think about all of that, in the end, that don’t hold water to anything.
It was very sorrowful, and I felt for all those people there and the pain of those who lost loved ones. There was a man who I thought was Saruman, because he was dressed as a wizard, in black. In fact, he is called The Wizard, and has been known to stand and preach in the square there for many years. He was begging people to sign a petition to save the cathedral. You could hear the passion in his voice and see it in his eyes as he held his wooden staff and called out to the crowd.
I was quite ready to leave that area, and felt relieved when we were out of the red zone, thankful that there hadn’t been an earthquake while we stood underneath those unstable buildings. I wondered what Antony was thinking, since he had grown up there, and also how Jeanette was feeling as she and Antony had many memories together in this city and with their kids as well.
We moved on to other parts of the downtown area, to the shopping area where shops had been converted from shipping containers and also into cafes. It was interesting to see how the city had to be re-built and how they had improvised. And then, I was delighted when we walked over to the river that runs through the city. I had seen the river in pictures before coming, about punting on the Avon River, and sighed at how romantic that would be for Josh and I to sit in our little gondola as the man rowed us down the gentle, peaceful river lined with white blossom trees. There was beauty that still remained despite the devastation, and I loved seeing little moments of this throughout the day. Teenagers sat on the grass having a picnic along the river, and young kids fed the ducks as couples sat on the benches admiring the view with their lover. It was weird to see that, really; life and happiness, nature and the sound of innocence was heard in the ducks’ quacking and in the children’s laughter, bringing humor into the air as just a few steps away was the sound of silence and destruction; of endings. But here, beside the Avon River, was life beginning and continuing. Butterflies and birds fluttered around so happily and peaceful. It was comforting and reassuring to see and hear all these things.
We drove around some more, and then Jeanette really wanted to take Josh and I to see an important site and memorial. We parked beside a bridge and walked down the sidewalk to something that really struck at my heart. Standing out of the river’s water was a sight that made my stomach turn; remnants of the steel girders that once formed one of the Twin Towers. Firefighters from New Zealand had traveled to New York City after those tragic events to help, and therefore, New York City had given the beams as a thank you memorial to Christchurch and New Zealand.
The metal was rusted, and Josh and I could not believe the shape that it had become; this steel metal that used to be strong had melted in the heat of that destructive, horrible act of terrorism as the Twin Towers were hit and then collapsed to the ground; it was now twisted out of shape like it had been a child’s piece of clay. I stood there for a few moments staring at those beams in front of me, and it broke my heart. It really did something to me inside, and the images of that day flashed again before me. To stand before these beams, to be so close and to touch them, it made it all so real. I saw those people’s faces, heard the screams, saw the terror and the pain. Thousands and thousands of miles away from New York City, and years since that day, and standing before a piece of what had once held the building together and that I watched fall in horror on the television as I sat in my 10th grade Algebra class, shocked and terrified of what more was to come, and seeing hundreds of lives being ended in that moment. When I saw the marker that said, September 11, 2001, I was thinking to myself, wait, what, really? 2001? It seems like that happened in 2011, almost like it was yesterday, how could it really have been 10 ½ years ago? I remember the anger and confusion I had towards my algebra teacher that day when she had us turn off the TV and go on to our algebra lesson; she seemed so cold and indifferent. Maybe that was her coping mechanism and maybe she was simply trying to protect us and herself, but I felt like I needed comfort and reassurance, and my teacher to talk to me and tell me everything was going to be okay, and maybe even to pray. But hey, we were in a public school; that probably wasn’t looked upon as the PC thing to do then. However, I do remember later that day and I am thankful that my choir teacher, Mr. Lane, talked about it and he prayed with us. (May he rest in peace now, as he lost a fight with cancer a couple years after I graduated from high school. I still do and always will remember the impact he had on my life.)
Anyways, standing there just brought memories back to my mind, and I am sure every one can remember where they were, who they were with, and the feelings they had that fateful day. Tears were in my eyes and I should have just cried because I was fighting the lump in my throat so hard it hurt. The moment really impacted me, that is for sure. It made me feel sad; and angry. Angry at those who did this. And it made me feel passionate, so passionate for the one thing we and I take for granted each day; Life. I looked at the cars driving by and the people walking on the street differently. I wanted to just grab each person I saw, look them in the eyes, and cry out, “You are precious! Your life is worth something! Your life is valuable!” God loves each person we meet on the street. I remember my preacher Mike back in Midland would sometimes say in his lessons, “You have never looked at a person in the eyes whose soul did not matter to God.” Wow. In Christchurch that day, I was faced with two tragic events that had happened. One in New Zealand; a natural disaster that killed many people. It had no remorse or care for what country they were from, age, sex, rich or poor, popular or unpopular. It left behind people who lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brother, sisters, and friends. It was a natural event; not caused by any other person. And then, September 11th, in the country I hail from and am proud of; the United States of America, it was no natural disaster, but the hands of man. Terrorism. Hate. Allegiance to the radical beliefs. Life taking away another man’s life from him. Or her life, or a child’s life. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How could anyone think that is good, or the right thing to do? How could you really be that stupid, to think killing is going to get you to your so-called heaven? I don’t really care about their reasons I guess, because there is no explanation or justification, and I know it is also fanaticism, but standing there and just the pain I felt in seeing those beams and knowing all the innocent lives lost, people who should be living today, walking the streets, feeling the warm sun on their faces, hearing the birds sing, little children laughing and playing, and holding the hands of their loved one like I am able to do; it just made me feel angry. Made me want to find all those responsible, not only them, but all those with hate and violence in their heart, who prey on the innocent and kill, and yell at them. Much good that would do, I know, but yell at them, nonetheless, to open their eyes! Our lives are so short anyways, as seen in the aftermath of an earthquake; it can instantly be taken from us. Why not stop and just savor that there is breath in your body? To live for good; not evil? But I guess that is the battle, the battle on earth…to go either to the light, or to the darkness. To create evil and do ugly things, or to see the beauty in everything. To see that life really is beautiful.
There were lots of thoughts in my head, as you can tell. But I needed to think, and be reminded. We drove on from there and to other areas affected by the earthquakes. I finally saw the ocean again, and the coast was gorgeous. Christchurch really is a unique city. We drove along the area where we saw houses literally hanging off the edge, cut open, their insides exposed. Quite scary! Many fancy, expensive looking and modern houses were now destroyed and hanging on by a piece of wood or metal. It was unnerving driving down below and looking up as the only protection between us and the cliffs were shipping containers lining the road.
It was also advised to not stop on that stretch of highway in case there was another earthquake. My calmness had been leaving me throughout the day, and I was feeling anxious and just not really safe.
We drove to a pretty beachside suburb, and I saw many people drinking and eating on the patios of the cafes. I love seeing that, and it was good to witness people still happy and carrying on. Then we drove under the mountain to get to the other side, to the suburb of Lyttleton, through the longest tunnel in New Zealand. I laughed when we were told that it was the longest tunnel, and then I believed it. I was so ready to get out of that thing! It was funny, especially when I later told my parents about our trip, because they were glad I was telling them everything AFTER the fact. We were driving through a tunnel underneath a mountain in a quake-ridden city, and through a “dormant” volcano! My dad said, “Wow, you were living in a regular ‘ole James Bond movie!” Haha. That’s what it felt like. Antony took the four of us out to this picturesque place on the other side of the mountain. It overlooked the water and the marina in the distance, but it was so still and quiet and peaceful. I could even smell a fire burning mixed with the scent of pine trees, reminding me of vacations to the mountains of Ruidoso with my family growing up. I love the smell of firewood burning; it’s so cozy and inviting. We spent a while there taking pictures and videos. The sun was starting to set and the lighting was perfect. Then we went to a lookout overlooking the city. That is my favorite time of the day, when the sun is setting. It was cool to see the city from up there, with the ocean in the far distance. There was also a fancy building made of stones that looked like a castle you would find in Europe, where the Raines said weddings were once held. Unfortunately, it had been closed due to earthquake damage. I really wanted to go inside, though. I love castles. I am a romantic at heart, if you haven’t noticed that already, haha.
After that, we went back to the city. As we were heading downtown again, I started to feel really weird; just overwhelmed with a bad feeling. We went to another area and drove around to look more at the areas and buildings that had significant damage and empty lots and crumbling structures. I hadn’t felt that anxious when we were actually walking beneath the buildings earlier in the day, maybe because the sun was going down now and night was coming, and most of the people had left the downtown area. We stopped in a parking lot and looked at the buildings and we really heard the silence this time. I started feeling a little nauseous and almost like it was getting harder to breathe; like a claustrophobic feeling and a panic like you needed to get out of there, and quick. I looked at Josh and he seemed to be feeling uneasy, too. I guess I could have spoken up, but I didn’t want to make a big scene and sometimes if attention is drawn to you when you’re not feeling that well, then when it’s known it just seems to make it worse, haha. I also knew Antony and Jeanette really wanted to see all this. I don’t know if I was having a mini panic attack or a continuous one off and on, but I certainly felt anxious; perhaps it was a delayed reaction to all that we had just seen and of course being afraid if another big earthquake were to strike.
Thankfully, we weren’t there for too long, as we were all noticing how starving we were. We drove to a pizza place called Spagalimis (aka “Spags”) in the downtown district, though not surrounded by too many big buildings, I still felt uneasy until we walked inside and after we had sat down for a while. Antony had recommended the pizza place because he had been there before and said how delicious it was; apparently it was quite a popular joint. He said it has withstood many earthquakes, so we felt okay to venture in. The mood was low-key with red candles and the decorations were chic and modern. It was packed too, so the livelihood and busyness of the place was very welcoming. For entrée (appetizer) we had wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. That is popular here, and a perfect combination! We inhaled those. And then the pizza was amazing! It was so greasy, but that makes it good! Josh and I shared a big one and it was gone in no time. We enjoyed our time there together.
At last, after a long day, it was time to head to their friend’s house where we were staying for the night. We were told it was out in the country, and man, was it out in the country! We drove for quite a long time. I actually felt glad of this, as we would be away from the city and tall buildings. As we were driving out there, just listening to Antony’s music, I think there was some sort of opera song playing, though I can’t remember what it was, but I just had another moment. I’ve always loved sitting in the back seat of a car on long road trips and looking out the window and just thinking. My mind races and my thoughts flow like a river. Sometimes I feel like slapping myself and saying, “Stop thinking!” Because I think about so many things, haha, which, well, gives me a lot to think about. But I was still feeling slightly nervous (and I don’t really like the dark either, I’ve decided, especially when you are in a new place) and hoping I wouldn’t get sick from all that pizza. I was thinking about everything, all that we had seen that day, and the sadness of it, and then, we came into a long clearing of open land. I liked that the landscape was flat, and I hadn’t been used to that since living in Wellington. Being so far out in the country, away from the city lights, I looked up and gasped and then smiled. The stars were so bright and brilliant, and there were a million of them. They were beautiful. Looking up at the stars can really put things into focus, and I felt God’s presence again so strongly. It was so comforting, and I almost felt like he was talking to me or that was His gift to me that I needed to see in that moment. A reminder that He is still there. He is the Creator, the maker of the heavens and earth. That He is a God of love; that he loves me. And that; “There is light, a beauty up there that no shadow can touch”, as said by Sam in The Return of the King, as he and Frodo are in the land of evil, Mordor, and Sam catches a glimpse of a white star as a clearing in the clouds appears in the black, night sky.
We finally reached our destination, and were greeted warmly and enthusiastically by our hosts and the friends of Jeanette and Antony. We were also greeted by a Lassie dog named Cassie, which made Josh and I both happy. She barked at us and was finicky and suspicious of these strangers, but slowly warmed up. Inside their house felt so warm and inviting and I loved the decorations. It felt like a country home, rustic and sweet all at the same time. The house was really big too, and felt warm and like it had been built properly and insulated to protect us from the cold, night air. The kitchen had a big, long island, and I found myself wanting to have my own cooking show in that kitchen. It also had a wood burning stove and a massive chandelier. I felt very cozy and comfortable there and the family we were staying with was so sweet and very friendly. The daughter was around our age and we chatted with her and her boyfriend a little bit; it was nice to meet new people our age and they had a desire for traveling as well. We all sat in the living room and talked for a long time, as these friends were together again and catching up. I really enjoyed it; the couple was very lively and it was interesting hearing their stories and experience with the earthquake and the questions they had for Josh in regards to their claims. We learned one of those major earthquakes struck very close to their home, but they were lucky in that they experienced no damage, just a few cracks in the garage and a couple things falling down from shelves. Another reassuring thought to both of us, and once again, knowing that we were far from the city.
Josh and I were getting quite heavy eyed, so we at last bowed out, said good night, and shuffled off to bed. We loved our room, it was so nice and big and inviting, and the mattress heavenly compared to ours at our flat back home! The best thing was looking out our double glazed window that overlooked their farm, and seeing a sight that made both of us laugh. We squinted our eyes through the darkness, but we could faintly see the silhouettes of white creatures in the backyard. Alpacas! Haha! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one in real life, if so I don’t recall. Jeanette and Antony had told us this beforehand, which made us excited, that these people owned an alpaca farm! So knowing that was what we were seeing, some of them standing up and some laying down, in the distance was quite funny. I wanted to go out there and pet them. But, that would have to wait till the morning. We snuggled up in what seemed like the most comfortable, luxurious bed I’ve ever slept on, like sleeping on a cloud. We could hear the others down the hall still up talking and laughing, which brought comfort to me and helped me fall fast asleep.
The next morning, when I woke up, I jumped out of bed and rushed over to the window to see the alpacas. And then I started laughing! Josh got up and we just giggled at how cute they were, and funny-looking. We even saw a couple sheep. After getting ready, we ate breakfast with everyone in the kitchen; I had homemade muesli. I haven’t been a big fan of the healthy mixture, but this was actually delicious! I could have eaten three bowls, as it had fresh coconut flakes and cinnamon, mmmm! After drinking coffee, we hurried out to go see the alpacas up close. I almost got to pet one that was on the other side of the fence and he barely got his head out as he was reaching for grass on our side. Them suckers are fast moving their long necks! Fortunately, our hostess took us to the front yard and through a gate so we could be inside with the alpacas. That was so neat to watch. She and her husband are Alpaca-whisperers. They knew each one by name, and she walked up to one and was talking sweetly to it, almost like baby talk. You could see how much they loved their animals. I finally got to pet one; it was soft, like petting carpet. It was so weird petting their long, skinny necks and how they would move it fast as they were a little cautious of us. They are at our height though, so that was comical having those big black eyes just staring at you behind their shaggy white fur partially covering their eyes. I laughed and said they reminded me of Mrs. Lamb chops, but Josh didn’t know what I was talking about, haha. I used to watch that show when I was little, and they really reminded me of that sock puppet. The owners said that Alpacas are very curious creatures, and you could tell this as they all gathered around and stared at us silently, chewing their grass. It was kind of creepy sometimes, haha. I wondered what they were thinking; they probably think we are the funny-looking ones! That was probably the highlight of our trip; Josh and I both love animals, and we both wanted one after seeing that. Josh was saying how he wants to get his parents one for their farm in Texas.
We eventually said our goodbyes, and the four of us got back in our rental car and headed back to Christchurch. We drove around some more, went shopping for a little bit, and then drove along the coast looking for a place to have our church service. We found a place overlooking an inlet where the sky above was filled with birds casting graceful reflections on the smooth surface of the water. What a great place to worship God!
After that, we grabbed some take-away food and sat on the grass in a park overlooking the ocean. That was so nice, and the weather was perfect again. We even talked about traveling, and Antony talked about how once you have travel within you, it becomes infectious, and it’s hard to let go of, it just becomes a part of you. Jeanette said it was good for Josh and I to do this while we can and don’t have kids, which we agreed with and is why we are doing this now. Antony said there’s no excuse not to travel, just take our kids with us! I guess we’ve kind of thought of that before, but that was encouraging and sounded like a good idea for the future. Because whenever I think of us having children, which we hope to wait a while, Lord-willing, but it seems like it’s all over once you have them, haha. But I guess that wouldn’t necessarily have to be true, though I find it hard to imagine carrying around a baby traveling the world. With our experiences, I’ve learned it’s sometimes been hard enough dealing with myself! And a husband, to boot! Haha.
Then Josh and I walked out on the pier into the ocean. That was the longest pier I’ve ever been on. We saw a few surfers and many kids making sand castles along the shore. The pier was filled with fishermen and we smiled as we saw little kids excited when a fish was caught or were carrying a bucket full of crabs. That was one of my favorite moments, walking hand-in-hand with my husband Josh. I felt so in love with him, and glad to be with him, and just talking and taking everything in together. We felt like we were back in Galveston, Texas, or just reminded of our trip we took there a couple months after we got married and remembered how much fun we had on that 4th of July weekend. We’ve laughed and reminisced about that weekend several times, both saying how that was one of our favorite memories together, and just ever! In little ‘ole Galveston, Texas where the water is brown and ugly and the air hot and humid. We had a great time, though, because we were in love, and it was so romantic just being together and swimming in the ocean, which we’d never done before as a couple. Always the little things in life and in love that make you the happiest.
We joined back with Antony and Jeanette, and we all got an ice cream. Then we drove around and saw more sights. Antony showed us the house he grew up in and he got out of the car to go look at it. It was abandoned and pretty run-down. I wondered what he was thinking and thought about how I have felt when I’ve gone back and driven by the houses I grew up in. We also drove by the place where Antony and Jeanette got married, so that was really neat to see and I am sure very special for them.
Then, we drove through the neighborhoods that were in the red zone. That was eerie and sad to see. Houses that used to be lined with cars and children playing in the street and families eating at the dinner table were now empty. Grass was growing up tall around the windows and it was like looking at a ghetto. These had once been really nice, middle class family homes, and now they were cracked and broken and neglected with liquefaction spread about the lawns. We saw a few houses, especially this one that had sunk in the ground nearly two feet. We even paused and Antony turned off the car and music and we listened. Silence. You could only hear the cicadas buzzing. I thought how sad that would be to have to leave your home with all your memories. Some people hadn’t even been able to go back inside and get their belongings because it was just too dangerous. I would hate to go back to my old neighborhoods where I have such happy memories and to see the entire street abandoned and grown over, with life there no more. It was like a ghost town. Even going back and seeing my old houses, that part doesn’t seem right as it is, because I’ve looked at those houses and they are not the same, because we are not there, and the decorations and personal touches my mom and Dad made to it were gone; it was now someone else living there and it just did not look the same. The same flowers weren’t there or the new owners had painted the house a different color or something like that. So I couldn’t imagine how hard that would be to see your neighborhood in that condition. Many people were in the white zone in which they had no answers yet, whether or not their home or land was safe to return to or rebuild on. Those were the ones in limbo, as they have been calling it.
Josh was trying to explain the technical categories of the zonings of Christchurch, as the people in the white zone are most disturbed and frustrated understandably, for they do not know their future. He has been assisting many people who are at their wit’s end as where to go from here, but as this is New Zealand’s worst natural disaster in the history of the country, it is hard to determine. I am so proud of my husband!
By the time we left Christchurch and back to the airport, Josh and I felt quite ready to come back to Wellington. It had been a very eye-opening and emotional trip, but we enjoyed our time with Jeanette and Antony and getting to see new things. We love going to places we’ve never been. I sat by the window again on our way back, and it was so cool to see us approaching the North Island and I was amazed at the beauty still of this country. We were even able to see our flat from the plane window. It was that weird feeling again and kind of an oxy-moron; we were happy and relieved to be back home to Wellington, our temporary home; it’s not truly our home nor does it completely feel like it is. It was just us two coming back, not to be greeted by our families like if we were going back home to Texas. I don’t know if any of that makes sense, haha, it’s kind of hard to explain, but it was good to be back in Wellington and this has thus far been our favorite place in New Zealand, and glad to be where we have become more familiar with. There was that feeling, however, like I said, landing at the airport, and I even felt that different times when we were in Christchurch, where I really was feeling the miles; the distance between us and home. I guess the homesickness comes in waves like the ocean outside our window.
My heart is heavy for Christchurch. I commend them for their strength and my thoughts are with them as they deal with rebuilding their city and picking up the pieces from the earthquake. I will end this post with a poem I wrote.
Where have the young children gone?
Where are they who used to play
In my streets?
I cannot hear their laughter
Or see them climbing my trees.
I hear not the call of the mother
The children groaning they must come to bed.
Where have they gone?
Their laughter is only a memory
For now, all I hear is silence.
The homes are now all abandoned,
That once were filled with families.
The lights are off
I see not the flickering flames
Of candlelight in the window.
The windows stare back at me
Now, blankly, and empty.
Where have the young men and maidens gone?
Lovers who used to smile sweetly
And utter sighs of love
As they drifted timelessly and gracefully
Down the river.
And the lovers sitting ‘neath the weeping willows
Whispering secrets and promises of forever.
Where have they gone?
Their love is only a memory
For now, all I see is despair.
Where is the Bride?
Dressed purely in blinding, alabaster white
Cheeks rosy with love and excitement
And with tears in her eyes
As she enters my Great Cathedral?
Where is the Groom
Eagerly awaiting the sight of his beloved?
To hold her hand
And to smile sweetly at her
As they both utter sighs of love
And confess their promises of forever?
Where have they gone?
The rose petals scattered
Down the aisle,
Are only a memory,
For now, dust replaces their beauty.
Why is my cathedral empty?
Where have the stones gone?
Why are they broken
And lying in a rubble
‘Neath the shattered stained glass?
Where are the people
Who used to worship the God above?
Where have they gone?
Their singing voices praising God
Are only a memory,
For now, all I hear is the soft cry
Of a pigeon echoing a solemn and somber hymn.
Soon, every stone will be torn down
And my cathedral will be no more.
But then, the long night ends,
Dawn breaks, and the light of the sun
Illuminates the city.
They have come.
Yes, they have been here all along;
People who come together,
And with their bare hands
And passion beating in their hearts,
They pick up the stones and,
One by one,
Begin to rebuild my city.
The birds are singing,
Children are laughing again,
And I see the young men and maidens,
In love and sitting by my river.
Now, I see that for this place,
My dear city of Christchurch,
There is only a future.
And, if one were to listen closely
They can still hear
The tolling of the bell,
Faintly, but surely,
Resounding a message