The Magic of The Gift: Thank You, Christchurch Irish Society
In my recent post for “A View From Here: A View From Christchurch” for the Aotearoa at Frankfurt Blog Carnival, I alluded to some of the less-than-easy aspects of living in post-earthquake Christchurch.
Summed up in a few words, disasters of the magnitude that happened here are never over when the earth stops shaking (or whatever the natural or man-made equivalent is in the case of other disasters in other places.) That is only the beginning and the really hard yards come afterward: surviving, making do, repairing, rebuilding. And such things take time, a lot of time. They’re not “sexy” in media terms either—no more death and destruction, no feats of heroism, sacrifice, and service. “The shouting and tumult dies—the captains and the kings depart” (Kipling)—and places like Christchurch are left just trying to make a day-to-day difference in a situation that is a lot about grunge and far from “normal” by any stretch of the imagination.
Mostly, I believe, we succeed, but it is natural, I think, for the first rush of offers of assistance and help to come in in the early days when the disaster is very much in the news—and the need both immediate and great, no question about that at all.
From a personal point of view, when it comes to assistance, although we sought and accepted practical help from family and friends in the days post Feburary 22nd (much of it recorded here on the blog under the Earthquake Reports and also in the Acknowledgments to The Gathering of the Lost, The Wall of Night Book Two, completed during that time) we mainly tried to keep it to that. The reason was because we knew for a fact that we were an awful lot better off than a great many other people and we wanted the help, both institutional and charitable, to go to those who really needed it.
For this reason, we have never taken any grants such as those available from the Red Cross, even though in theory we qualified for them. And when various charities and welfare agencies came knocking door-to-door, which they have done on far more than one occasion, I have always said the same thing, very sincerely: “Thank you so much for asking, but we’re fine. We don’t need anything.”
So if the Christchurch Irish Society had knocked on the door, I would have said exactly the same thing.
But here’s the thing: when I walked out to my letter box the other morning, I saw something red and green and shiny in it, and thought (as you do): “Huh, what’s that?” When I got closer, I saw that it was a brand new first aid kit. Picking it up and examining it more closely (and still a little puzzled), I saw a very small sticker that said: “From Chch [Christchurch] Irish Society.”
And then I understood: this was a gift. A very practical and useful gift that would be of very real benefit to any household anywhere, but particularly on Christchurch’s East Side in the aftermath of the last two years’ events. And although such a gift may address need, it isn’t about need: it’s about giving. And when something is given in that way: quietly, generously, and thoughtfully, it would be churlish at the very least to either return it or give it away. To do either of those things, regardless of whether or not one could afford to buy exactly the same First Aid kit for oneself, would be to deny both the magic of the gift, and the generosity of the giver.
So I have done the only thing possible: I have accepted the gift. More, I am grateful for it and for the thoughtfulness it represents, not least because this is a gift from Christchurch people, who may themselves be in need, to their fellow Christchurch people.
And in a living situation where, despite best intentions, it is sometimes hard not to have days when the “glass half empty” is the glass one sees, the moment of realisation around the gift of this first aid kit was one of both deep appreciation, but also warmth: cup-running-over stuff, indeed.
Needless to say, I shall also be giving thought to “paying it forward.”
And here it is at last, in all its glory, the first aid kit: