Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Our Monster Called - Surviving the Unexpected


'The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.'

I'd set my alarm for 5 am so that I could wake up and finish reading this book, it was that good. You can probably count on one hand how many books leave you with tears pouring down your face, this is one of them. It was an emotionally demanding read and I was feeling utterly despondent that it was over. I left it on my bedside table and not three days later, our monster called too. 

Monday, 14th November 2016, 12:02:56 am. Depth, 15 km. Magnitude, 7.8. Location, 15 km north-east of Culverden


It happened almost underneath us.

We held on tightly to our children as the earthquake raged on, seconds stretched out to minutes. Like being trapped in a tiny boat on a rough sea we had to just wait and see what nature would do to us.

We shouted over the noise to one another as the roaring earth forced movement into materials that weren't designed to move. Furniture clapped and busted itself against the walls and floor. Rigid fibres of the house surrendered and failed. Chimney bricks began to tumble down the veranda roof outside the children's bedroom, we had to get out.

About six weeks ago the trajectory of our lives changed. We went out into the night in our pyjamas and left the house that had sheltered the last five generations of our family. We began to write a new and unexpected chapter in the history books.

A most undignified ending


She had the good grace to let us all out alive, but seeing the house's demise in this way is like seeing a grand old lady fall down in public. Then, on life support, we stripped her of her organs.

Knowing we had little time, the next few days after the quake were spent battling through a haze of shock and exhaustion to salvage as much as we could from inside. Either way, it would eventually be the house or the authorities that prevented us going back in, so we moved fast.

People rallied around us, friends, family, even teams of complete strangers. Together we brought everything out and into sheds until there was nothing left but broken things and stuff in places no one was prepared to go.

Soon after, she was given her prognosis, a red sticker, and the doors were closed.

Dealing with damage


Our property; a farm and several houses, has seen extensive damage. We are certainly not alone. This earthquake has upturned the lives of so many and the damage control continues. But nothing makes you feel prouder to be a kiwi than seeing how we cope with adversity - determination and pragmatism followed by a stiff gin and tonic. It is something to behold.

What will be involved in putting things right will be time consuming and complex, years of work. A difficult diversion none of us expected to be taking. To think of it is something thoroughly overwhelming. The psychological hangover from a close brush with your own mortality, too, has taken time to subside and probably isn't over.

Working it out


I feel quite certain now that the best way to deal with difficulty is to literally, physically, work it out. Work it right out of your system. Nothing is more dangerous than to sit and dwell on what has happened, what might have happened and the terrible possibilities of what could happen next. But to set yourself to a task and get busy moving forwards acts as a salve to feelings of pain, hopelessness and gravity that settle in after shock and trauma.

It was a giant task and I soon realised, best not to be thought about as a whole. But one step at a time, one thing at a time, one box at a time and one day at a time, the task was broken down, bit by bit, we are getting it done.

'It always seems impossible until it's done.' - Nelson Mandela

I probably spent over a week packing the contents of our home into boxes. Sorting, categorising, wrapping, packing and labelling. Hours and days of quietly plodding away in the garage beside our broken house as I came to terms with this step change and started to dream of the possibilities of rebirth.

The time spent working it out and making progress is all forward momentum towards turning a sense of misfortune into gratitude and opportunity. Every day if I can do something to move us forward, we'll be closer to going home and it is impossible to feel despondent in the light of progress. Weeks of reflection have left me accepting that we have much more to be grateful for than we have to mourn.

A New Years Revolution


I've been obsessed with time - making the most of time, not having enough time, trying to find time, wasting time. I think this year, if the past weeks have taught me anything, we just need to be more concerned with having the time of our lives. Because frankly, we just don't know how much of it we've got. The time of our lives isn't always super fun, but it is about being engaged, being in the moment, bring present, making the most of time, doing the best we can with it, and taking things as they come. Also, it is about celebrating the good things no matter how small. It is important to let the good times roll.

We are not in control of our time, just as we are not in control of what life might throw at us. This year isn't going to follow the plan that I had previously set for it, the earthquake made sure of that. I'm unsure what it's going to bring and what it will require of me. So instead of letting the fear of a lack of control, control me, I'm resolved to embrace it.

However, I didn't make a New Years resolution, it is a New Years Revolution, and that is to simply go with the flow. No more fighting the current or trying to swim upstream, go with the flow, and when necessary, ride the rapids.

Take it easy everyone and here's to 2017!