In the Air New Zealand lounge at Christchurch, the Crusaders gathered for our short flight to Dunedin. My phone beeped with a text. We rarely pause to reflect how those text message notifications reshape and redirect our thinking on a minute-by-minute basis, but this one from the principal of Fendalton Open School rooted me where I stood.
My parents are over with us at the moment and they came along as Jessica dropped me to Christchurch Airport before they proceeding onto collecting Max at Kindergarten and our four elder children at Fendalton. The time between saying goodbye to Jess and the school text arriving wasn’t long, but it demanding my fumbling, frantic fingers dialled her number immediately.
The school was in lockdown, the principal’s text reported, which meant no entry or exit. Momentarily I failed to get Jess but got my father on his mobile. Other parents had told him at the Kindergarten that there’d been a shooting in the city. The awful scale of what was unfolding had yet to emerge. My parents brought Max home and Jess was allowed into the school, into the staff room, where she stayed, horrified, for over three hours.
It’s not much more than three years ago that we were in Paris living through the aftermath of the Bataclan massacre. I know what Jess was thinking at that moment because I was thinking the same: That we were getting away from that terror, and removing it from the lives of our kids.
At school in Paris, our kids would practice that stuff, hiding under the tables in case of a terrorist attack. It’/s part of the life of a schoolchild there now, but never in our worst thoughts as parents did we fear that would be something they might have to rely on in Christchurch, New Zealand. You end up thinking what’s next now.
It’s only this morning (Saturday) that everything is sinking in properly regarding what has happened. I jog along Hagley Park at least once or twice a week. That’s the thing about Christchurch. It’s a tidy, sedate city. You can get everywhere in ten minutes. It’s not dissimilar to Cork in size, but nowhere near as busy. But now it’s the same as London or Paris, New York or Sydney.
There’s a serious sense of bewilderment, of deep distress that this could be Cork or Charleville or Carlow in the morning. That’s what is going on in my head. Nowhere is safe now. It’s over. It’s not just the big cities. That’s what I take from it.
Thankfully at no stage in the airport as information and rumour continued did I didn’t lose communication with Jess. After the school text assuring me that everyone was safe and secure, there was a little but of stability in my thinking.
With my mum and dad being here, it was a little less difficult to make the decision to get on the flight to Dunedin for tonight’s Super Rugby game against the Highlanders. It has come out in the last few hours that the guy involved was based here in Dunedin. He considered waging terror here, but it didn’t offer the same scale of carnage as Christchurch I guess.
Of all the places around the world, it is hard to imagine a city less likely to experience such malevolence. We go for drives on a Sunday morning and mightn’t meet a car. You could go a week without seeing a policeman. After Paris, Christchurch offered this feeling of beautiful serenity, of goodness, so much so it would restore your confidence in humans, and life. ‘Til yesterday anyway.
I’m really not even sure, or comfortable, with the idea that our game against the Highlanders should go ahead tonight in Dunedin. This is an attack on Christchurch, its people, on a community. And the Crusaders represent all the people of Christchurch.
Update: Since this column was filed the Highlanders-Crusaders game has been cancelled. Both teams will receive two Super Rugby points.