I AM still, as an old man who has seen much, amazed at the level of evil a human being can exhibit. We truly are potentially awful mammals — the most awful, really.
I live in a small provincial city where, daily, we all mix with each other on very friendly terms no matter where we are from. I enjoy the diversity of cultures in our wee burg. We have our nutters but they a fringe dwellers who hopefully are harmless.
I do not have many Muslim friends — not by choice; simply because there are not many Muslims in my community. I do have one Muslim friend whom I worked with for many years in ACC. He is a highly qualified physician who brought his lovely family to NZ to further his studies and to give his children a safe life. My friend has the greatest sense of humour; he is so humble and caring but so talented and able.
We would talk about the Koran and the Bible. He was fascinated by my lack of knowledge of the Bible and almost lapsed Catholicism and he borrowed my school Bible for a few months to read and study it. After he handed it back he would sometimes quote from it just to amaze me.
He accepted me for what I am. He also taught me about halal food and curry. Lunch was always an adventure. He laughed at me asking for "Kiwi Hot" at restaurants, but with kindness.
My friend does not drink alcohol, but would quiz me on it and on what happened when alcohol was consumed, making me think about what most Kiwis regard as a normal part of life.
My friend is continually amazed at what he sees and hears from "you Kiwi boys and girls", laughing all the time. He eventually got our humour. Being with him made me a better person. He does not appreciate rude jokes or swearing, so I had to lift my act a bit. He had no concept of rugby, but we all helped him in this aspect and I think, in the end, he became mildly interested in the game.
My friend is a holy man but accepting of all religions. I asked him once to come to Mass with me and he agreed. We did not get there, due to other matters arising, but he was willing to embrace a Christian service.
The only time I saw my friend get cross or angry was when we would talk about Isis or al-Qaeda. He would say they are not Muslims, just terrorists.
My friend and his family are now New Zealanders by choice, which makes me very happy. He is not living in New Zealand at present but returns often, and we always catch up for lunch and kōrero. He may come back in the future, but his career has taken him to the Middle East in the meantime.
What happened in Christchurch was only about hate and racism coupled with pure madness. That beast took the lives of innocent children, women and men practising their faith in a place where they should have been safe.
I cannot describe here my feelings for this specimen, but putting him down would be the easy way out.
I have not spoken to my friend since Friday due to other matters, but I know he, his lovely wife and children will be bereft.
I hope he still wants to come back here to live and to offer New Zealand his knowledge and experience as a highly qualified medical specialist.
If anything comes out of last Friday, let it be that we accept each other for our differences of faith, politics, colour, and beliefs.
Life is too short and temporary to be hateful.
Rob Rattenbury, who is retired and lives in Whanganui, spent much of his working life dealing with people in crisis, first as a policeman and later with ACC. He recently published a book about his years with the police, So You Want To Be A Cop.