After an afternoon of walking around Christchurch in the heat, it feels so good to sit down on the soft lawn here in the Botanic Gardens. The sound of insects, birds and children laughing behind me on the playground fills the air, and some ducks sitting in front of me on the grass have waddled towards me in a hopeful manner, and are now grooming themselves following my disappointing failure to feed them.
Really I could be anywhere in the world right now, in any park, where people do what people do in parks. Some people just walking silently, others chatting, lovers kissing, friends enjoying a picnic…….and it is a reminder of the joy I always get out of being outdoors, in parks, even at home. Cassiobury Park is one of my regular haunts, come rain or shine, a place where I have powerfully encountered God, laughed, cried, rejoiced over birds and squirrels, read and written. No doubt before too long, despite the cold weather in England right now, I will soon be taking a stroll there again and that thought is filling me with a quiet, deep joy.
For now, the city that lies ahead of me is, of course, not Watford but Christchurch. The peace here in the Botanic Gardens hides the destruction caused by the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, still evident today: in the shape of large open areas covered only with gravel, of cranes, scaffolding, signs warning pedestrians to stay away from hazardous areas. A large gaping hole in the old cathedral, with pigeons perching inside on beams and scaffolding testifies to the loss of historic buildings and the debates that abound about whether to seek to restore what is lost or tear down hazardous buildings and look ahead.
People whom I have spoken to about Christchurch have had mixed views about Christchurch. Some have been filled with deep sadness upon visiting; others (notably some of the backpackers I have encountered) have told me there is nothing really to see.
For me, Christchurch has definitely been worth seeing and in a way I wish I had had longer here. There is something deeply powerful about being in a place which has faced a catastrophe and yet stands defiant, determined to rebuild beauty from rubble. Signs
of resilience, of determination to bring light and colour back to spaces reduced to rubble abound: colourful graffiti all over the centre and signboards on the old cathedral square are as much of a celebration of life and rebirth as the beautiful, light-filled transitional cathedral known as the Cardboard Cathedral due to the 98 giant cardboard tubes used for its construction, or the wonderfully defiant Re:Start mall known as Container City, a lovely little shopping precinct with stores, cafes and bistros operating out of shipping containers. No, this, for me, is not a city of sadness-there are too many signs now, in 2016, of the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Perhaps I would feel this way because I tend to be a “glass-half-full” person; and perhaps it is also because I have seen and experienced, in so many rich ways throughout my life, how ashes can turn into beauty, bad situations lead to growth, more resilience, strength, positive change. True, for many here life is still hard-just the other day, at Lake Tekapo, a lovely couple (Nathan and Leanne) camping next to me were telling me about the struggles that some families still face in awaiting allocatio of new homes, of the battle in the management of insurance claims and some of the abuse or foolish actions taken by those receiving payouts with the sole purpose of building their homes (eg staying in an unsafe house and going on holiday instead). Yes, Christchurch has a long way to go yet. But as I sit here, I feel deeply moved by a city, a people who are determined to build back with a smile on their faces, and perhaps-who knows-to even build back better.