Christchurch: A Tribute to Firefighters

Despite knowing that Christchurch had suffered a devastating earthquake on 22 February 2011, Jay and I were neither emotionally prepared to accept nor intellectually able to understand what we saw as we drove around center city searching for our hostel back in early January, 2014. It was eerie to drive around and emotionally destabilizing to walk about the silent, empty, windblown lots which not so long ago had buildings on them. On our first walkabout of Christchurch we came upon an ultra-modern sculpture in The Firefighters Reserve on the banks of the Ōtākaro/Avon River. 

ChCh Firefighters Memorial 1

ChCh Firefighters Memorial 2

Firefighters Memorial 3

The three plaques next to the memorial read:
This sculpture within the Firefighters Reserve stands as a silent tribute to firefighters worldwide who risk their lives daily in the pursuit of their duty.
Firefighters are always in the front lines and never more so thank on September 11, 2001, when international terrorists hijacked four domestic American Jet airliners and flew two of them, along with their passengers, into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center.  The two towers imploded and collapsed, and from the more than 2,800 dead 343 New York firefighters.  All that remained of the twin towers, and the lives lost within, was a mountainous pile of twisted steel and smoking rubble.
In May 2002, five steel girders, weighing 5.5 tons were salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center and gifted to the City of Christchurch by the City of New York for use in a public art work to honour all firefighters worldwide.  The suspended component or “spear”, in its red hot state, fell from the 102 floor of the World Trade Center Tower Two, piercing the subway below.
The sculpture stands within a dedicated reserve opposite the Central Fire Stations on the banks of the Avon River, near the historic site of the former Tautahi Pa. There were important Maori cultural and spiritual issues to be considered in placing a sculpture made from a site of death near this significant life-giving site.  Consultation with representatives of the Runaka of Otautahi and Tuahuriri took place to ensure that processes and procedures were enacted to appropriately acknowledge and address the cultural considerations.
The opening of the reserve and the unveiling of the sculpture on October 26, marked the beginning of the 2002 Seventh World Firefighters Games in Christchurch.
This Sculpture ‘Tribute to Firefighters’ was created by Christchurch artist Graham Bennett.  A work of stark simplicity, the composition was derived from observations of firefighting skills, notions of overhead dangers and recovery. 
“During the time of the construction, the city reflected on the place of war and violence in our world. Having read this summary please go across the river. Sit down and quietly reflect on what happens when people stop talking and violently push their dogma on each other.  Remember the victims and, like the firefighters, act selflessly and strive for a world of peace.”
Gary Moore
Mayor of Christchurch 2004
Pax Vobiscum
Pumautia Ki Te Pou Roko
ChCh Firefighters memorial 4
ChCh Firefighters Memorial 5
ChCh Firefighters Memorial 6
We are two Israelis who independently of one another have spent long periods of time in New York City. We quietly shared memories of visits to NYC prior to 9/11 and afterwards.  Then we fell silent, took photographs and walked over to the other riverbank to sit for a time of reflection. As we made our way across the bridge, it occurred to me that the mayor’s invitation sounded very much like the Maori way of inviting a visitor into a Pa. A Pa is a Maori settlement or the defensive position at the entrance to a village – one never “just walks in” one always waits to be invited in.
With each step I took towards the other side of the river, the discomforting dissonance I had been carrying since our arrival in Christchurch departed from me. I felt that I was walking away from a place of death, safely making my way over water to a place of renewal and life.
When I turned around to face the other side of the river, I saw that my new perspective had caused the girder’s shape to change from a spear of death into the Hebrew “Shin,” the first letter of “Sha’-dai”, one of the Hebrew names of G-d, generally translated as “G-d Almighty.”  The root word of “Sha’-dai” is “shadad” meaning “to overpower” or “to destroy,” its older meaning is “to be strong.”
ChCh Firefighters Memorial 7
ChCh Firefighters Memorial 8
ChCh Firefighters Memorial 9
The invitation to go to the opposite side of the river and reflect brought me round about and back to my continuing conversation with G-d.
In that short walk, on the banks of the Ōtākaro/Avon River,
within the precinct of the ancient Maori Pa,
close to the epicenter of an extremely violent earthquake,
far away from my home in Jerusalem,
far away from Buenos Aires where my late husband was killed in a terrorist attack,
far away from New York and 9/11,
through the simple observance of a Maori ritual,
by accepting a spiritual invitation and walking across water to be welcomed into the Pa,
I had arrived in a place of majestic strength,
where I could be strong,
“G-d, give Your people strength”
and allow more peace to enter my heart
“G-d, bless Your people with peace.”
Pumautia Ki Te Pou Roko
Pax Vobiscum
Peace Be With You
Salam Alekum
Shalom E’leChem
All photographs for this blog post are by Isa David-Ben-Rafael and are owned by IsraeLightly

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