by Mina Amso
This is the day that we dreaded the most. We felt the pain of loss, we felt the fear, we felt the terror. Could this really happen? New Zealand, the country far, far away. Isolated, enchanted, peaceful, tolerant and welcoming. Could this really happen? It did.
We certainly had other plans. On March 15, 2019, I was on my way back from a week-long retreat at the Beatitudes community in Leithfield, North Canterbury. I was in a spiritual bliss.
The bliss, peace and quietness I carried was quickly switched into confusion, being flustered, hurried, feeling panic, uncertainty, a troubled heart and concern. I was flipping between different news outlets on my phone. Watching different videos. Listening on the radio to any updates, trying to find out more about this disaster. I wanted to know if they had caught the person responsible.
Was he was still on the loose? Who was he? Whether I was in danger. Who died? Where are they now? Why did all this happen?
Little did I know, the terrorist attack was a big deal. Many people died. One person was responsible. But was I expecting it to happen? Sooner or later I thought terrorism would find its way to our shores. Now, New Zealand will be well-known for the “rugby” and “that terrorist attack”. Who would have thought that our often taken-for-granted tranquillity, silence and peace would be ruffled?
Those who’ve never heard loud gun shots before, screaming and bleeding victims, or known the pain of losing someone, now have. I have lived it myself, through the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and the Gulf War in the 1990s. The sirens warning us to hide away, telling us to hunker down. These familiarised me with violence and hostility. What I wasn’t familiar with were the flowers, the hugs, the signs, the heartfelt messages and the love shown throughout Christchurch and New Zealand.
But how often, in our own lives and hearts, we experience little moments, sometimes long periods of bliss, calm and collectedness. We think “all is going well, my job is good, my family is doing well, I have friends, I am going to my place of worship, I am happy where I am, as I am”. I am comfortable. And bang. Something drastic happens. Sudden loud rattles us, something happens that violently shakes our core. Then comes the many
after-shocks mixed with fear and anxiety.
The quiet before the storm
Are we aware of our hearts? Are we aware what we are aware of? Are we thinking about what we are thinking? Were you aware of how turbulent your heart was on March 15? How did you respond to the fear? How reactive were you to people and thoughts that kill human life? Kill growth? Stop development? Pretend to end togetherness?
A year has passed. How different are you today to this day last year? How have you changed? Are you more human? Are you more compassionate? Are you more aware? Are you more sensitive? Are you more forgiving? Are you more loving towards your neighbour?
Yes, what happened on March 15 was wrong. No one should be killed anywhere or anytime. Who are we to kill another human being? Neither Christians, nor Muslims, nor Jews, nor Buddhists nor Atheists nor Agnostics nor any other faith background have the right to kill. Whether you believe it or not, God himself gave us the freedom to choose everything. What to do with our life, to love or not to love, or to believe in Jesus Christ or not. This freedom isn’t meant to be abused, though.
If someone gave you $100,000 today and told you, “Here, take this free gift. You are responsible for it now. You didn’t earn it. You don’t really deserve it. However, it is yours for the taking because I am good and I love you”.
If you could do whatever you like with the money, what would you do? Would you take the money? Would you take it, but later throw it away? Would you take it and abuse it? Scatter it all away? Would you reject it? Would you use it to take another person’s money? Would you put it to good use in charity? Would you go travelling to explore the world? Would you invest it? Would you keep it in the bank and look at it every now and then? Would you consider giving it to the poor? Would you consult with a financial advisor who knows more about finances and wealth than you do? What would you do?
If the One who created the human person, and knows all about each person, gave you the thing called freedom, which to me, is priceless, then what would you do with it?
Take a minute, consider how the terrorist who slaughtered the victims on March 15 thoroughly abused his $100,000 free gift. Or, more appropriately, his gift of free choice. If you can recognise this, you are able to distinguish between using and abusing. Growing or halting. Lifting up or tearing down.
This freedom we have is beyond our understanding. Today I would like to remind you that you still carry this freedom. Freedom to find the truth. Freedom to explore who you are. Freedom to take the next step in your faith. Freedom to sacrifice. Freedom to love, though difficult. Freedom to endure hardships. Freedom to pray, then act. Freedom to recognise right from wrong. Freedom to choose life, not death. Freedom to be active, not lazy.
There’s a reason why we have freedom. It’s scary to have, but what a privilege it is. It means we are trusted by the One who created freedom and gave it to us. This freedom — the ability to “do whatever you want with your life” — is your weapon to stop hatred, division and fear.
Let’s reflect more. The next step to making our world a better place is to take a minute and think: “I am free”.
Mina Amso is NZ Catholic’s Christchurch correspondent. A Syriac-Chaldean Catholic, she spent her early years in Baghdad, Iraq, before her family came to New Zealand.