Updated -- Christchurch, and a Long, Long Night


Odds are she is fine. The overwhelming odds are she will return home with stories to tell, a braver and wiser young woman now for having witnessed catastrophe, catastrophe that befell others. Always others.

But it’s been long hours now since the Earth buckled in South New Zealand. Hours since buildings fell. Long hours since YouTube videos began to show collapsed buildings, crushed cars, and people, some bloodied, and some unmoving, in Christchurch.

She was nearby Sunday evening. She planned to head South, in search of adventure. Did she travel? Is she in Christchurch? Where is she?

Odds are she is fine. The overwhelming odds are she will return home with stories to tell.

It is the middle of the night, and still there is no word from her. That is because communications are disrupted. She will send a message soon.

She is my daughter, and I am at once reduced to mere waiting. She’s a twenty-something heroine chasing her dreams in New Zealand, the same sorts of dreams I had when the world seemed far more welcoming than I now believe it to be.

Yesterday’s earthquake in New Zealand struck mid-day. It registered 6.3 on the scale we use to measure the violence of such things. Just last fall, a more violent quake ripped through Christchurch. But it came in the off hours. Yesterday’s quake struck when the city was full and bursting with life.

One video looked just like Manhattan in the wake of 9/11. Smoke choked the air. Jittery people milled about, seeming to flock toward the center of streets, away from the edges of buildings that once looked like anchors. One woman held her chest and cried, at once transformed from confident mother to keening child.

My wife and I celebrated last night, before news of New Zealand’s earthquake reached us. I sent final page proofs of a book to the publisher. Whether for good, for ill, or to indifference, it will soon be released to the world. Letting go of the manuscript completed a task. I had done my part.

How much different than letting a child go into the world; the worrying work is never done. The world is not a welcoming place. The Earth heaves, and it swallows whole decades of love. There is no truce, no amnesty, no second chances among the vectors of chance and circumstance. We come, I know, and then we go; I know this, but I cannot accept it.

All night I learn a bitter truth. This is how military families live. Silent courage is required to meet the inevitable days of uncertainty. I cannot fathom the energy it must take to press on daily knowing a son or daughter walks streets where snipers prey.

The Earth too can be a predator, although it lacks intent. There is no evil. From nothing we emerge as if by miracle, and then, some day, and once and for all, to nothing we return. The mad intervening dance, the comma separating forever from forever, is all we know. We cling to it, almost like cowboys atop a raging bull, or is it like pedestrians walking the raging streets of Christchurch?

Odds are she is fine. The overwhelming odds are the she will return home with stories to tell. But tonight is a long sleepless sigh. I know what the world can do, and I know she is not immune from crushing chaos, and neither am I. But I bargain with inchoate gods tonight, and something like prayer arises. I am awaiting a call, a message on the Internet, some word to tell me she is well.

Odds are she is fine. But I cannot help fearing she is not. Live long enough and the odds always turn against you. I know this even if I cannot accept its cold logic. She is fine, I tell myself. The overwhelming odds are that she is fine. I am tonight a gambler.

UPDATE: Still no word as of 6 p.m. E.S.T. Thanks to all for the many private emails!

Comments: (6)

  • You all are in my thoughts
    I know the feeling of not knowing how your child is, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
    Posted on February 23, 2011 at 7:28 am by Kim
  • I hope she is well
    My thoughts are with you.
    Posted on February 23, 2011 at 1:59 am by Martin Budden
  • Your daughter
    I will keep your family in my prayers.
    Posted on February 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm by EBB
  • Any word?
    Just wondering.
    Posted on February 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm by Atticus
  • i also hope
    thinking and hoping everything will be fine!
    Posted on February 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm by renate
  • I hope so too
    Thoughts and prayers, my friend.
    Posted on February 22, 2011 at 8:07 am by Atticus

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