Shaken Not Stirred
I have something to confess.
In an attempt to have a luxurious Monday strolling around Wellington city void of responsibility, I wrote today’s blog post yesterday. Well, I wrote what I anticipated to be today’s blog post yesterday. But obviously, things changed a little overnight.
This morning, along with many other places across New Zealand, Wellington experienced a bit of a shake up.
It was just after midnight. My friend Mary and I had just made the tough decision to stop a movie and close the laptop. On Saturday night, we had been another friend’s engagement party, so as I’m sure you can imagine – we were definitely due for a good night’s sleep.
It seems the earth had other plans.
As always, the first few seconds of the earthquake were pretty surreal. My brain tried to rationalize the shaking as anything but. Was Mary shivering ? Was it the wind? Was it a bus driving past outside?
When the penny dropped, we promptly exited her room and stood in the doorway together. Very soon after, her two flatmates emerged from their rooms to stand in their doorways, and we stood looking at each-other in slight disbelief wondering what the hell we do.
One of her flatmates I hadn’t yet met, and he exited his room wearing only his underwear. Obviously my humour is relatively resilient, as I had to consciously stop myself from giggling.
How terrible of me. Modesty should not be an expected priority during a disaster.
In all the time I’ve lived in Wellington, I’ve never felt an earthquake like this one. It wasn’t so much shaking as usual; more it seemed as if the earth was drunk. It was rolling and heaving in a motion which leered and stumbled and swayed clumsily in lieu of any sense of direction.
The four of us took turns trying to persuade each-other calm as our emotions fluctuated between stable and petrified. The shaking went on for about 45 seconds, and I tell you what.. Never have I felt more defenseless in my life. The lampshade was swinging back and forth, and back and forth, and was getting closer to hitting the roof with every pivot of the pendulum. We heard a few crashes from upstairs. The electricity flickered. The walls creaked in protest at the sudden and unwelcome disturbance. Car alarms began to blare.
Then. The shaking subsided.
And Mary’s flatmate finally had chance to don a pair of pants.
We grabbed our phones. Put on our shoes. Held our hearts to stop them bursting out of our chests. We gathered our wits, put them in our pockets, and took them with us as we ventured upstairs. We took our wits out of our pockets, and swallowed them whole when we reluctantly endeavoured back downstairs to get our phone chargers and warm clothes, just in case we had to leave.
We did what any modern person would and turned to the internet for more information.
Amazingly, for the first two minutes or so, we got nothing. No information was being shared. The news sites hadn’t published anything. So we took it old school and turned on the radio.
7.5 on the Richter scale. Felt all over the country. No reports of injury yet. Emergency lines are down. Contact your local police station if you need help. Centered just out of Christchurch.
Oh God. Not Christchurch.
I tried to call my friends down South. The phone lines were down. I tried to suppress the panic that was clawing up my throat.
The aftershocks just kept rolling in, and I’d be lying if I said that keeping an eye on the Geonet site didn’t cause me anxiety. Earthquakes, of varying degree, were happening all over the country at astonishing frequency. If Facebook was quiet at first, it was bustling now. People were marking themselves as safe, asking after their friends, sharing photos, videos, and messages of camaraderie.
I’ll never forget the relief I felt when I finally received texts from friends telling me they were ok.
I could sense tension in the air. I think the whole country was afraid.
And then, the tsunami warnings came.
We have an official report, I repeat, an official report which has just come in to Radio NZ. Anyone on the East Coast of New Zealand. There is an official tsunami warning which must be treated as serious. If you are located in a coastal area, get to higher ground. We are trying to get clearer details, but for now, that’s all we know.
What the hell?
What is this.
I heard that someone was driving around Lyall Bay with a whistle telling people to go inland. I heard there were traffic jams in Miramar. I heard that people were door knocking, and strangers were offering their homes to people who had to leave their own.
If ever I’ve been confused about the meaning of the word surreal, this experience definitely clarified it.
I couldn’t bring myself to go to bed until 4.30am. I woke up this morning and wondered if it had all been a dream. Or, more accurately – I woke up wishing it had all been a dream.
I’m not telling you this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not telling you this because I think my experience is particularly important, nor particularly distinct.
I’m telling you this because this experience has made a few things super clear for me. And for those of you who felt the quake, or who are watching in slight disbelief as the details unfold, I’m sure you’ll share similar sentiments.
Life is unbelievably fragile.
Things can change in an instant.
And almost everything is out of our control.
It can be tough to know what really matters sometimes. But events like this serve as a profound reminder.
What matters is looking out for one another. What matters are those you love. What matters is making sure that we don’t take our time or our health or our safety for granted. What matters is taking control of what we can, and giving this life thing our best shot.
I am devastated to hear that there have been casualties. My heart goes out to those whose homes and properties have been damaged. I can’t imagine what this must be like for the people of Christchurch.
In times like this, despite all the ugliness caused, the way people change is comparatively beautiful. The irrelevant lifts. The pace slows. Arms are opened. There is a sense of understanding, kindness, generosity and gentleness as we collectively attempt to piece if together, and work out what to do next.
And work out what to do we will.
Stay safe out there, Hustlers.