I wanted to write something about where to go for solace. I was going to suggest poetry. But, even though I've been moved by poems in the last few days, the horror still comes back. I was going to suggest not being alone. As a general rule, a good course of action is not to be alone. But it's not possible for everyone.
Where to find solace? It's easy enough to find momentary distraction: look! A new season of Queer Eye has started. There's a podcast to catch up on. Pull some weeds. And it's easy enough to exhaust yourself so that you can't think too much: walk a long way. Clean everything. Scroll and scroll until numbness sets in. But these escapes don't last. They are like the small island of forgetting you sometimes find yourself on when you first wake up. You always have to come back to the other place, where somehow you have to find words again. A place that, at first, feels so bleak and alien it's like we've fallen off the back of the world.
It hurts to be here, because it's now brutally apparent that the massacre of Muslims at worship in two Christchurch mosques last week has come out of this place – an everyday place. A place where white supremacy, vicious hatred and intolerance, in all their variegations, have been allowed to grow, their roots stretching deep into this country's colonial past and now shored up by hateful online discourse and by a vast accumulation of small actions and inactions each day. Here, a person can nurture their fears of invasion, of somehow being replaced. A person can find a sense of purpose, even a sense of home, within the actually deranged ideologies of white supremacy.
It needs to hurt to be here. Words need to feel clumsy, even impossible. These words do. Maybe then it will also become apparent what strength it will take to get out. Time can't be relied upon to do its work, as if all anyone had to do was let the current take them downstream and heal them.
I keep hesitating to use the words 'we' and 'us'. It's because I don't know who that is anymore. It's because – as warm and as affirming as it is to feel a part of something, even an imagined something – 'we' and 'us' can also allow the individual to hide, yet still be warm, still affirmed.
A STORY I sometimes tell myself is that I'm bad at confrontation. I say that it's because I grew up in a family where people didn't tend to speak openly about how they felt. I tell this story to myself when I'm angry and can't think of the right words. I tell this story when I'm afraid of getting it wrong. Most of all, I tell this story when I need to speak up and, through both a failure of nerve and an overwhelming weariness, I shy away. The story has been easy to tell others, too, because it is always told in a joking, light-hearted way. Palatable as it is, its cowardice becomes woven, imperceptibly at first, into a person, into a family, into a place, into a culture.
That story has made my way easier. It has made the way harder for others. And it has made the way harder for everyone, collectively – infinitely harder to move forward with compassion, respect and, at the very least, tolerance; to challenge an assumption that anyone whose expressions of home, worship, family, and self you don't at first recognise must exist outside of some imagined collective "us".
I think many people probably tell themselves a similar story when they look away from expressions of racism. Yes, the impulse to protect yourself is understandable. "I can't bear to see that dark place; I'll keep running." I run out from the shadows, without pausing to see what cast them. But this self-protection leaves others vulnerable. It denies them the same solace.
It's difficult to unpick these threads; they're woven so finely. The moment you believe it's impossible, we're even more lost.
IT'S A privilege to find comfort readily. Today I read poems, even when their comfort isn't lasting. I pat my cat until the carpet is speckled with his dribbles. I try not to be alone too much. I think how much harder it is for the Muslim community to find solace. How much harder for anyone who has been "othered" here. It is urgent that each of us extend, at last, the solace of looking with clear eyes at what has happened, of no longer telling the old stories, of uprooting what has been allowed to grow here.