Six Years On22/02/2017
Jennifer reports on her experiences at this afternoon's Oi Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial dedication and memorial service.
I’ve never been to the official memorial service before. In previous years I’ve always gone to the much more low-key River of Flowers event in Riccarton – less an event than a quiet gathering and chance for contemplation. But this year I’m one of many sitting on the grass watching the ceremony unfold on a giant screen, having arrived too late to secure a spot on the bridge overlooking the stage and still-to-be-unveiled memorial wall.
At first I’m surprised at how many people are here. Maybe I’ve absorbed the message coming from the rest of the country that it’s been years now, surely Christchurch should be over it? But this crowd is proof that we’re not over it. We still feel the need to gather and remember in a common place.
I don’t have high expectations of this ceremony. I’m expecting to be bored by long pontificating speeches from the many politicians and officials in attendance. But the speeches are mercifully short and on topic. I’m pleased to see that Mayor Lianne Dalziel takes the podium before Prime Minister Bill English – on this day of all days it feels right that we hear from the leader of our city first.
I’m surprised how long it takes to read 185 names. One hundred and eighty five is just a number, until you sit and listen to each of their names. Then you realise just how many people that is. It’s a realisation that’s enforced after the ceremony ends, when the crowds disperse and I get my first glimpse of the wall. The memorial wall is big. So many names inscribed upon it, so many lives lost.
The queue to walk down the steps and see the wall up close is long, so I satisfy myself with the view from the bridge. But I will come back in a week or two, to read all of those 185 names for myself.
As I walk back into town to catch my bus, I find myself in Cashel Mall. I look at the shoppers and tourists, and realise that for the first time, I’m not remembering the images of destruction of six years ago, nor am I seeing the transitional city we’ve been in since – I’m seeing a glimpse of the new Christchurch that is beginning to emerge. A busy, vibrant city, on what could be just another summer’s day.
But then, among the crowd, I spot a flower in a road cone, and I know that 12.51 pm on 22 February will always be a time when Christchurch pauses, just for a minute, to remember what we lost.