Cloudy skies managed to block the bright Canterbury sun this afternoon providing a more comfortable experience to those who had come to remember and reflect on the February earthquake.
The service was held at the Christchurch Botanic gardens on the archery lawn, an appropriate location, far removed from bleak red zones, dusty city land and noisy construction. It's surrounded by some of the city's tallest trees, which in a way, felt like they were providing support to the people below.
Today's setting enabled over two thousand people to remember loved ones surrounded by the only feature that remains pretty much the same following the quakes; nature. Names of all 185 people killed in the quakes were read out one by one.
It's not until you hear all the names, the enormity of one of New Zealand's worst disasters is crystallised for another year. The tone of the service and today was less reflective and more appreciative on how far the city has come.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel spoke of the need to acknowledge those still experiencing trauma. A young family from Kaiapoi had tears rolling down their faces as they explained the importance of being at today's service.
A minute silence was held at the exact moment Canterbury changed forever. At the end, the Botanic Gardens Peace Bells sounded before the crowd moved towards the Avon River to place floral tributes into the water. Residents at various locations across the city take part in the annual River of Flowers. It's a beautiful and unique sight, seeing the river filled with colour and hope.
Evan Smith from the Avon-Ōtākaro Network says using the city's waterways that link to each other, shows how different communities connect and belong to something much bigger. He's right, even before the earthquakes, Christchurch felt like a big community, and the River of Flowers has become an occasion where old neighbours reunite in their former suburbs to do something special.
Canterbury is moving on and many who live in the region have a very individual perspective on how they're feeling five years on. The weekend before the service, I wandered the gardens and asked those who had experienced the February quake how they were feeling. A young father of three spoke of his frustration at the lack of progress across the city, but was careful with his words in front of his kids.
Minutes later, a group of teenage girls talked with great enthusiasm in their voices about the excitement of living in a city with new buildings on the way. Two primary aged boys said the aftershocks didn't really bother them and they were just happy their grandparents had come to live with them.
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A retired couple who had brought their grandkids to the swimming pool said they were doing just fine until the Sunday shake happened. Now they felt uneasy, particularly before bed wondering if the still night was a false sense of security. The husband said he felt like he was a "resilient sort of fellow" but wondered if his reoccurring rash on his right arm was earthquake stressed related.
The one area where residents from different suburbs seem to come together on a fine sunny day is Christchurch's botanic gardens. While the city has lost so much, today's service, among the gardens, was a reminder to all of us not to take people and the natural environment which surrounds them for granted.