The city is quiet today. Occasionally a helicopter can be heard. It was a relief to see a plane flying overhead as I was hanging out the washing this morning – as if things were back to normal. I was reminded of being in Santa Barbara, California, when the 9/11 attacks happened and how quiet it became with all air traffic halted. A police car siren a moment ago had me on alert again. Sirens are often heard in the distance, but that’s the first one today. You wonder if the police are hunting out extremist cells after delving into the dark web.
My heart is broken for the families of the victims and I can’t bear to think of their suffering. Many of our students and their families attended the Deans Avenue mosque. One of them who was in my Year 9 class last year gave me an unexpected hug on Monday when I said how much I missed her and her classmates this year. Another, who I taught several years ago was from Nigeria. He was intelligent, positive, funny; the kind of young man you think will do well in the world and even save it. Was he at the mosque on Friday?
And the 28 year old perpetrator – so young and he’ll never see the light of day again. I’m afraid to dig into the dark place that is his mind to try to understand him. As an educator I’m frustrated by the ignorance and wilful closing of the mind that seems to characterise extremism.
My Year 9 students did well in the three-hour lockdown. As soon as the alarm sounded they knew what to do. I locked the doors and covered a glass window which looked out onto the stairwell. They pulled the curtains and got down on the floor. They’d been well trained at primary school, obviously, and a few of them had been in a lockdown before. We were all nervous (though I couldn’t show it and was so fearful that someone was targeting the students marching for the planet in the Square), some were tearful, and as time went on they became restless but kept themselves quietly entertained. I was able to let small groups down the stairs to the toilet. Some even continued with their school work as the hours went by. Pretty amazing really, considering they’d been in the classroom since 2pm and weren’t given the all-clear until around quarter to six. I had my laptop open to receive instructions and an autistic student was kept occupied by keeping an eye on it for me and letting me know when new messages came through. It was clear, even in our isolated position, that the police were doing a fantastic job across the city, using the Ministry of Education networks to keep in touch with schools – and doing far more than that, of course, such as arresting the criminal alive.
Several years ago, when we were issued with Procedures for Lockdown I thought, “Stop the world, I want to get off” – or out of teaching anyway – if this was the kind of thing we were going to have to become accustomed to. Then we became used to earthquake drills and the real thing: Drop, Cover and Hold. Earthquakes seem quite benign in contrast to yesterday’s malicious crime.
The roads were jam-packed and it took me an hour and a half to get home. People were very patient and considerate, just as they were after the February earthquake. Shocked, is how I would say we all felt, and very sad. I exchanged a tired smile with a young woman driver, because her dog was leaning his head out of the back window in a very patient, sad sort of way.
Listening to the news on the radio or on tv quickly became unbearable. I shut the doors and windows and pulled the curtains tight against the dark. Some hours awake at night were relieved by wonderful National Radio which played comforting music such as this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4sN1etmws8 and shared texts from listeners. Clearly everyone all across the country is feeling the shock – and across the world. But where to from here?
The garden offers some solace today. There are raspberries dropping off the canes and courgettes ready to pick. The sun even shone for a while, but I’m reminded of that last speech in Romeo and Juliet:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;/The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head…