How to bring a community together – the Christchurch Earthquake Vigil in London
A few days ago a Kiwi friend sent me the facebook invite to the Earthquake Vigil for New Zealanders in London, at Westminster Cathedral. The idea behind it was to bring Kiwis in London together to pay our respects, send our prayers and love, offer support to those among us who have been affected in some way, to pull together and show our solidarity to the people of Christchurch, and raise money for the Red Cross earthquake appeal.
So, decked out in full New Zealand regalia, i.e. the pounamu (read: greenstone necklace) that I haven’t worn in I-don’t-know-how-long (see picture), I headed out on what was a freeeeezing night to meet two of my oldest friends and go to the service.
We arrived to a massive courtyard filled with people waiting to enter the cathedral and once the doors were opened we all started flooding in and quickly filled the 1,500 seats. I estimated that close to another 1,000 were inside standing. Apparently the courtyard outside was also filled and it is estimated that 5,000 people attended. It was organised by 4 Kiwi expats and done almost entirely through facebook, in case you doubt the power of social media to connect people.
It was a really lovely service with a message from our Prime Minister, personal reflections and stories from Christchurch read out to us, and prayers and song.
Two things about this event stood out and really spoke to me.
Firstly, it never fails to inspire and humble me the way tragedy has the power (indeed it is one of the only things that can) to bring people together like this. 5,000 Kiwis in one place on one cold night in London. Ok, so maybe a rugby game or a Kiwi-only event with free beer could achieve a similar number (well, 4,999 people anyway. I wouldn’t be attending either!) but they couldn’t bring us together in the same spirit and sense of solidarity as tonight did. The last time I saw that many Kiwis in one place I was in NZ.
For about an hour, 5,000 of us came together to show Christchurch that though we are on the other side of the world we are thinking of them, praying for them, here for them.
The second thing that got me (and this bit really got me) was when we had 2 minutes of silence. To stand in a crowd 5,000 strong, for 2 minutes of complete silence – there was a real sense of power in that. I have been in crowds that big that are dancing. I have been in crowds that big that are waiting (this is England). I have been in crowds that big that are protesting. But never have I felt so aware of the power and oneness of a crowd as I did last night.
We spend a lot of time thinking about our uniqueness, what makes us different from everyone else, why we stand out from the crowd, what it is that makes me ‘me’.
It was nice for a moment to take a break from that and experience what makes me the same as everyone else, my indistinguishableness (it’s my blog. I get to make words up), my plain old alikeness. In this case, quite simply my Kiwiness.
At a time like this you get reminded that you aren’t just a ‘you’, you are an ‘us’. You are part of a group – whatever that group might be for you – you are part of something much bigger, you are a drop in the ocean. And there is great value in acknowledging that. I think it’s the only way you can really experience that oneness and be able to come together not just as a crowd, but as a crowd with a heart.
So, if I may be so bold to speak on behalf of a group of 5,000, we are sending out all of our love, thoughts and prayers to Christchurch and those affected by this last quake. Though we are geographically far away we are all with you in spirit.