When I saw my friend Si’s e-mail telling me that another earthquake had hit, only one thought came to mind. My close friend Liv would have been at work, right in the heart of Christchurch’s Central Business District.
WHERE. WAS. SHE.
I immediately hit my Facebook news feed, where every other post was an image of the broken cathedral, the familiar icon on every class project or tourist brochure ever written about Christchurch. The more horrific the damage seemed to be, the more desperate I became to understand what the hell was going on. Google, Twitter and Facebook rallied around me – the gossipy friends you can always rely on, who always seem to be on the cusp of breaking news events like these.
Here in my London bedroom, in my glasses and nightie and with my laptop in bed, I locked myself into some kind of patriotic voyeurism. Through my web browser, an Australian TV station showed me bloodied and dazed Christchurch residents walking through what looked like a war zone. It was 2 a.m. in London. Christchurch’s Central Business District was 19,000 kilometers away from me, but at that moment, I saw exactly what that the cameraman could see – every sob, every face, every car wreck.
Staring at my screen, I recognized some of the streets, even though I’d only been there on work occasions once or twice. It’s that small an area that you can’t help but pass through the CBD while you’re there. It’s even that small a country, that Liv ended up being one of the passerbys interviewed on one of the TV feeds, which was narrated by the familiar voice of a former head prefect from my school, Tom McRae.
Another friend had also emailed me to tell me that Liv was okay. When I heard that, I felt a childish sense of relief — like when you wake up to your calm bedroom after a horrendous nightmare — and I felt silly for daring to enter an imagined reality where Liv wasn’t okay.
On the outside of the glass cage looking in, I saw 20-something guys in board shorts and hoodies, helping to lift some rubble off of a car. One of the office workers walking down the street had some blood on him, but replied to the inquiring reporter, “Just got some cuts and bruises, mate – good as gold.”
“Good as gold?” Dude, you were just in an earthquake. Kiwi guys are so tough, I thought lovingly, as I began listing in my head everything that I adore about New Zealand. I thought back to what an American woman once said to me while I was travelling: “Oh, I luuurve Nooh Zeeeeland – it’s like the States in the 1950s!”
New Zealand is a quasi-Pleasantville. Even in an ever-interconnected world, everyone still knows everyone in New Zealand – if not by name, then by some other mutual connection. Which is why the heartache proves even more bitter when something happens to the country – everyone whom I knew in Christchurch was fine, Facebook told me so, but I know that I have other friends whose friends didn’t escape unscathed. On my own Facebook and Twitter feeds, I joined many of my friends in posting ‘thoughts & love going to Christchurch’ themed messages.
The information washed over me from all angles – the news anchors’ drone pouring out from my laptop speakers, the exclamation marks through Facebook, the #eqnz hashtags through Twitter – but that doesn’t make it easier to understand why things like this happen.
But it became clear to me: You become grateful for the fact that although you may live in another continent, the Internet ties you into a parallel reality, to a hometown that you never really leave as long as you’re online.