When I was a small boy I auditioned for a primary school production of Peter and the Wolf. Initially I got the part of Peter, but it was taken away from me for bad behaviour. The role of the wolf was not so coveted.
New Zealand does not have wolves, but we know our fairy tales, and so we knew that the wolf is a symbol of darkness, a symbol of what we cannot see in front of us, or indeed on its way. As a symbol, the wolf speaks to our fear of dark natures as much as it does to our fear of what might meet us as we enter the dark forest.
We are not an entirely innocent people. Like any other nation, we have our demons, our dark side. Our colonial history which over decades has made each new generation blush with shame.
But, one of the fine things about New Zealand and its people, is a willingness to face up to its ugly and unflattering history. We have been strenuous and sincere in our efforts to re-make a society based on inclusiveness and dignity and cultural awareness. We are not there yet. But nor have we shifted from this goal. In recent decades our immigration policies have seen a determination to make our population look more like the rest of the world. It has been exhilarating and exciting to live in and to enjoy everything that such a pluralistic society has to offer.
We did not see the wolf coming. We did not hear him. Or, did we? Did the police not pick up his online "murmurings"? We did not see him on his soft padding feet. Or did we? Did he not ingratiate himself in to a local gun club? Did no-one suspect his ill-intent even when he applied through legal means to purchase semi-automatic weapons?
When the wolf strikes, we realise only in retrospect the mistakes made. The wolf was hidden in plain sight. It was assumed such an attacker would be Muslim.
That the gunman could have bought these weapons over the counter has shocked many New Zealanders who for the usual reasons of sanity assumed such weapons were not available here, and indeed had often mocked America for treating weaponry as just another consumable item alongside the eggs and a six-pack of beer.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern intends to change the gun laws. Few will object.
Of course, it will be too late. It will not rewind the clock. It will not prevent the alleged gunman, a loner from a small town in New South Wales who fetched up in Dunedin, several hundred kilometres south of Christchurch, from carrying out his attack.
Over subsequent hours and days we would hear, and indeed tell each other, "This is not supposed to happen here."
The gunman's riposte is easily imagined. "Why not?"
Why should this beautiful people be spared the agonies inflicted on beautiful people elsewhere? Paris. Nice. London. Berlin. Nairobi. Or the US, where the slayings are too many to mention.
Two nights after his terrible killing spree, where was the wolf? In a prison cell.
What a shame the wolf did not get to take in the vigil at the Basin Reserve. He would have seen for all his efforts the reverse had happened. He had not succeeded in sowing hate and fear, but instead brought this wonderful society together. What a spectacle he might have witnessed on a late autumnal Sunday afternoon as thousands made their way through the city streets.
Thousands of people, young and old, young mothers pushing prams, to stand on the hallowed turf where cricket is normally played. But, on this occasion, the scoreboard read: "Hate will not win. Kia kaha (stay strong) Christchurch."
Faces of all ethnicities and denomination brought together in a silent act of affirmation of who we are. All facing the eastern slope of the ground where speaker after speaker from various local Muslim communities spoke – none with hate in their hearts, but in fact the opposite, with a tremendous dignity and forbearance and love for their adopted country, touched, and moved by the acts of kindness and outpouring of shared grief across the country. Moved to discover that they are part of us, and we are part of them.
Later that same evening, after scoring a goal for local football team, Wellington Phoenix, star striker Roy Krishna would run to the in-goal area, and slump to his knees, his forehead bowed to the grass in homage to his wife who is Muslim and to the victims of the mosque slayings. It seemed the most reasonable thing in the world to do.
In light of the attack against the local Muslim community, Christchurch's famous rugby club, the Crusaders, has decided to discuss the process of possibly changing their name. They plan to consult with the local Muslim community. At the time of writing, on-line fundraising has produced more than six million dollars for the victims of the mosque slayings. This afternoon the NZ Parliament opened with a prayer from a Muslim cleric.
One act after another a direct repudiation of everything the gunman stood for, and what he hoped to achieve. The wolf, on this occasion, has not torn a community apart, except in its heart, and the hearts of those families who lost their loved ones. We are not diminished by his actions. We are not cowed. If anything, the wolf's action has brought the New Zealand community together in new and surprising ways.
However, it would be blindingly naïve to say that nothing has changed as a result of the gunman's actions. And it would have been obvious to anyone attending the vigil at the Basin Reserve on Sunday night, and that was the highly visible presence of police shouldering automatic weapons. Until Friday's mosque slayings, it would have seemed theatrical. Police bearing arms. As if we had fallen through a screen to another time and place.
NOTE: This piece was originally commissioned by Die Welt newspaper in Germany.
Lloyd Jones is a New Zealand author. His novel Mister Pip was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.