Life After An Unexpected Tragedy

Have you ever had a “fact of life” that you struggled helplessly against?

One that I feel strongly about is “life goes on”. Normally, this is a very good thing. I woke up this morning as opposed to not waking up this morning. In that sense, I’m happy life goes on. However, I struggle with this fact of life after a tragedy.

For the person who has just gone through an unexpected tragedy, life comes to a shattering halt for an undetermined amount of time. Yet for the rest of the world, life is momentarily interrupted but quickly resumes at full speed. Because life must go on.

This week Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge is buildings. What’s fun about tragedy? Or what do buildings have to do with tragedy? I can just hear your mind churning and trying to figure out where I’m going here.

Stay with me here.

I’m combining my love for photography and a look back at the Christchurch Earthquakes that began four years ago this month.

I woke the morning of the earthquakes to a plethora of calls, emails, texts and Facebook messages, from the USA, asking if my family and I were alright. “What? Heck yeah, we’re great! Why?” The news that earthquakes had shaken Christchurch and caused severe damage was astonishing.

Several of us spent the day watching the news and hurting with fellow New Zealand residents. Rescue workers, city engineers and volunteers jumped into action looking for damage and people who might need help or rescue. Compassionate souls donated their resources and money. I sat in front of the TV whispering prayers. We were all in a flurry of activity, whether hands on or at a distance, for days maybe even weeks.

I live at the bottom of the South Island. I am distanced by hundreds of kilometres from where the devastation took place. What happens after a tragedy for those of us not directly effected is that we tend to forget, go back to our lives, and assume that everyone else did also. Even worse, we can make assumptions about people, their lives, recovery and their approach to the aftermath.

I feel sad at the loss when I see photos of the city centre but I foolishly concluded that the primary effect was mainly aesthetic and inconvenient.

I went to Christchurch and met a family that continued to the experience painful results two years after the quakes. It was the middle of winter and their fireplace was too damaged to provide the warmth they needed. In fact, many parts of their home was completely unusable. They lived in hotels for a while but eventually had to move back home because of the financial burden. They told us horrifying stories of friends and family who were still using homemade toilets and had no access to showering or bathing facilities. People were out of work and worrying about keeping the minimal life-sustaining needs met. Fear was consuming countless hearts. The fear factor was so great that many people had moved from their life long homes in Christchurch to other parts of the world.

I was surprised at my own inability to bear burdens when they were not within my immediate view. I know the pain of unexpected tragedy but I was allowing my life to go on blindly. That fact was a struggle for my heart. How can I stay connected, compassionate, caring and supportive?

I felt pretty small and insignificant in my capabilities and offerings. My life situation prevents opportunities I would desire to provide. All I could do is ask, “what could I do that would make a difference in your situation?” Without hesitation the woman said to me, “Don’t forget about us and if you pray, pray for us.”

It was not a response I expected. Clothes? Money? Hotel? Help with repairs while I’m here? Give me something tangible to “do”. But no. She answered from her need, unaware of my ability to provide that need. She wanted to know that while she was doing the “hands on stuff” that someone, somewhere had not forgotten her plight. Secondly, she wanted someone to prayerfully ask for help on her behalf: she needed courage, she needed hope, she needed strength, she needed her faith sustained and she needed solutions in the process that were out of her control.

I remembered that day that when unexpected tragedy touches a life, the most important thing I can do is remain aware of their situation and ask them periodically what they need from me.

Today, four years have passed since the first earthquake hit the beautiful city of Christchurch. Christchurch continues to rebuild, people continue in hardships and I continue to remember and pray. Four years passes quickly for me as my life goes speeding on. However, four years is an eternity when life is devastated and changed forever by unexpected tragedy.

May I never grow indifferent to the pain around me.

My goal is to-

Be mindful.

Be there.

Ask and not assume I know.


4 thoughts on “Life After An Unexpected Tragedy

  1. THese photos are remarkable. When I lived in southern California I was in a couple of big quakes (6.9 and 7.1 or something like that). I marvel at what mother nature is capable of. Thanks for sharing.


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