What can you do that’s of any consequence?

I grew up in Napier, the town that in 1931 suffered a devastating earthquake. It was, and hopefully will forever remain, New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster.

The earthquake defined Napier – February 3rd, 1931 became its most infamous day, and the necessary rebuilding made Napier world famous for its Art Deco architecture. (It always struck me as cruelly ironic that a city that fell to the ground became famous for its buildings.)

I remember reading the story of a survivor, recorded, as I remember it, in a newspaper supplement commemorating an anniversary of the earthquake. I was in my early teens when I read it, about the age she had been when the earthquake struck. She described the terror of seeing buildings fall, the loneliness of standing in a school field wondering, the guilt of being alive.

But what she remembered most were friends, now 50 odd years dead, but old enough then to have been looking forward. She talked about friends who wanted to be builders, to enter the church, to be married, to sail, to keep books. Friends who wanted to see Paris, see a musical, see the All Blacks play. Her sadness, she said, was that it was those plans that were lost.

Like most people I’ve spent today feeling pretty helpless. You want to help, but seriously, what can you do? I’d give blood but the Blood Service says they have enough of that. I’ve given money, and I guess there can’t ever be enough of that. But at a practical level you can’t help but feel like you’re not doing, not giving, anything of consequence.

So I’m thinking about what a Napier earthquake survivor said. So much was lost in 1931, but it was the lost opportunity that still pained her 50 years later.

And that’s what you can give. Give a commitment to doing something big, to not losing your opportunity. What’s the one thing you know you desperately want to do? If you’re honest, you know what it is. Everyone does. On a summer Sunday afternoon, just before you drift into an unplanned nap, what’s the last thing you think of? The place you want to go, the song you want to write, the job you know you should be doing, the race you should have run? You know what it is. So do that.

Please send money. Please give blood when it’s needed. Please make beds available. But please do something with your life. That’s something of consequence you can do.

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What can you do that’s of any consequence?

5 thoughts on “What can you do that’s of any consequence?

  1. Years ago I when I was still woking as a copywriter I was giving our friend Charlie a hard time. He was putting in the sewage pipes out in Porirua. He signed each of the concrete join with his name. I laughed at him and said they’re pipes full of shit Charlie why are you doing that? He looked at me and said – “Nick in a 1000 years time do you think someone is going to dig up one of your ads and ask – ‘Who was Nick Ward?'” The next day I started writing a movie.

  2. Kirsty Owen says:

    Well said. Its Day 4 here in Christchurch and raining. That’s actually a good thing as for those of us still with homes it means the indoor plants can get watered without using the precious stocks of water we are refilling from a filling station every other day. Its a day of further clean up and reflection, a day of mourning, a day when it could be so easy to become blanketed by grief and paralysed by it. But your words made a difference. I know you meant them as a way fpr those not here at ground zero to stave off frustration of not being able to be more practically helpful, but Mr O’Neill they’re helping us too. The idea of living opportunities and making dreams happen gives us much needed focus. A balm to our bruised and shaken souls. Thank you.

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