For loved ones around the world, let me reassure you: we are okay. Auckland is at the opposite end of the country from Christchurch, almost the distance from Edinburgh, Scotland to London, England. The government recommended that all New Zealand mosques shut their doors yesterday, but there were no indications that other Islamic centers were targeted.
And for those same loved ones, let me tell you: we are not okay. One of the things about living on a small set of islands is that the national feels local. There’s one main TV channel, one main nightly news program, one weather report for the whole country. When radio stations run contests, people call in from all of New Zealand, not just the metro area where the station is based. To be honest, there just aren’t that many of us here, and spread out though we may be, there’s a sense of closeness. It’s a neighborhood that also happens to be a nation.
One of the most difficult things about leaving Minnesota was leaving behind my neighborhoods. Sure, the geographic ones where we complain about I-35W and cold winters and bike lanes, but more importantly, my neighborhoods built around shared values and experiences. I knew where I fit in. I worked hard to be someone who could be counted on to show up. My place in my neighborhoods was defined by what roles I played in them.
I’ve been learning about the indigenous Maori healing arts found in the wisdom of plants familiar and new. I can hardly keep up with all the new vocabulary I’m learning: not just plant names, but the Maori words to express the energy, the connection, the web of interconnected life reflected in and defined by what the earth gives us and how we use it.
Plants are easy. They show us what they are by what they do. A plant that lays low to the ground, flourishes in busy paths where it gets stepped on, and persists because of its tough, shallow network of roots provides external healing for the wear and tear of life. A plant that spends its energy growing a single, deep taproot goes to the heart of an illness. To observe these lessons is to let the plants tell you how you can both rely on them and nurture them.
I’m like those plants: I am what I do. But without knowing my place in the web of things, the neighborhoods of people and communities, I feel shallowly rooted and unsure of my purpose. My transplant isn’t complete, and I can’t add my strength to the healing, the rongoa, it’ll take this country to recover from the shocking arrival of the white supremacist and Islamophobic violence that was an everyday occurrence with everyday excuses back in America. What do I do for people whose fresh shock tinges my weary horror? What do I decide to be to help heal a new home hit with a familiar nightmare?
I am what I do. When we were in the States, I knew what to do to protect and support beloved communities under attack. In New Zealand, I’m still untethered. I have no connections, no place to plug in and say that this hate can be fought and survived, that I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. So right now, I can’t do anything. What does that make me?