Driving around the ever-changing one-way system of Christchurch’s inner city you pass empty building sites full of rubble, bounded by link fences, and littered with signs: Keep Out. Building Site. Wrong Way. Dead End.

It’s confusing and – yes – it is confronting. Knowing this, I’d set out early for my afternoon interview with David Bolam-Smith at the Transitional Cathedral. The route had been carefully mapped out, yet I was still diverted like a dodgem car down ever-changing one-way streets dotted with road cones. All too soon I was apparently lost. It was hot. I lamented the lack of familiar landmarks in a city that had been all but razed and was tempted to flag it away. Yet just at that instant I arrived at my destination and glided into an empty carpark.

The names of those who died are engraved in the wall

Once inside the Transitional Cathedral, I discovered an oasis of calm, even though it is always busy with people coming and going and seldom empty of visitors. It’s a place of reflection, meditation and, yes, even of prayer. It’s a place to witness – and to feel – the resilience of the human spirit. I wandered outside to wait in the shade. An older woman passed me and I took her to be one of the many volunteers who staff the cathedral. But when she returned, I saw that this elegantly-attired woman was homeless; holding on to all that remained of her belongings, stacked high in a supermarket trolley. The unimaginable loss and the horror of living through what she must have witnessed, during and after the earthquake, hit me as never before. I felt ashamed of my earlier childishness. Who was I to whine about a loss of familiar landmarks and a few road closures? Others had lost everything.


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