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26 April 2020

War and the beach

Written by
Diana Manks

Every April in New Zealand on ANZAC Day we reflect on the contribution made by each and every New Zealander who has served in war and conflict.

I remember those who have fought to keep New Zealand free and safe, a country where as the mother of a daughter, I’m grateful women and girls have the same freedoms and rights as males.

At the same time I cannot fathom a world where war is so normal that we need rules of war, rules that say it’s ok for my son to kill your son, but we have to follow these rules when your son captures my son. I hope for a day when the fears of “them” and “other”, greed, ego, rightness and all the other war starters subdue to a level where we can manage differences and conflict without war and its codes of conduct. In the meantime I bark “how about a rule that says no war, put on your big girl /boy underpants and sort it out without killing each other’s children”.

Perhaps now signals hope as people think about “us”, we are experiencing the world as human beings, behaving as the one species we are, rather than as subgroups of browns, pinks, believers, non-believers, and any other grouping you can think of. We are on the same side because we share a common, and creepily invisible threat, a threat that does not see our differences or care about our economies, a threat that every human wants to be free of A.S.A.P. Unlike the threat of climate change, this present threat can make us sick and kill us.  We are all under attack and the consequences are here, now, not at some vague time in the future.

In the past month as the leaders of our countries and their populations turn their attention to combatting this strain of coronavirus, there has been a distinct drop in news about human conflicts. Here in New Zealand crime rates have plummeted and even the expected surge in domestic violence in lockdown is well below predictions. Our response to the virus has demonstrated that we do have the ability to behave differently, and when we do, along with the hardships, economic impacts and personal struggles, there are multiple gifts. Gifts I hope we hold tightly to as we emerge from this period in our collective history.

During my first four weeks in lockdown I have been very lucky – I have continued to work at home, my partner who cannot operate his business is being paid by our Government. I notice that never before have I given so much of my income to others, to food banks, charities feeding school children who now need to be reached at home, and to charities supporting abandoned and abused animals. I am feeling less “me” and more “we” than ever before.

How can we continue to be together as humans, with all our differences when our common enemy is defeated? This is a question I am hearing every day. Which gifts will you bring with you and hold tightly as precious when you emerge from your bubble? What will you continue to do differently? What changes will your voice, actions and funds rally for?

During lockdown one of the salves (read sanity savers) for me has been accessing the beautiful Kapiti Coast beach, made especially wonderful because my daughter walks with me. I notice that without all the human activity, fewer cars driving by, no planes and helicopters in the air, the beach feels wonderfully solid and ancient. It was here before humans existed, quietly minding its own business, doing what beaches do, it was here during all the wars we fought, and it will be here long after I leave this world. The beach is a reminder that in the great scheme of things humans are not as central or as important as we think we are. We are a blip in time, we have come and perhaps one day we will go, and our behaviour only hurries our possible going. The scary part of this is that we are aware of our existence and potential extinction. The planet and the universe are not aware and do not care – that is our burden to carry.

The ocean does not know about our struggles with the virus that is scaring us so. If it could voice a noticing it might notice that it feels cleaner, quieter, safer and more abundant during this short period of human absence. The sky might remark that it can breathe easier after just a few weeks of the humans staying home.

As I walk the beach I wonder about this question; when you walk a beach do you look up or do you look down? My daughter and I look down, we are looking for “luckies”, beautiful shells and pieces of nature we can collect to remind us of the beach at home. We are also looking for other life forms – one day we see blue jellyfish with sails, another day bigger clear jellyfish, a third day six crabs, a fourth day a starfish.

I have to remind myself to look up, to see the sand stretching miles either way, the island and the vast sea. I challenge myself to really see; what are the colours that make up todays beach, certainly not golden sand and blue water. No, my beach is made up of beiges, greys, purples, greens, yellows, pinks, and aquamarines. Of people walking, dogs bounding, sea gulls and oyster catchers feeding and yellow daisies gently closing for the night.

Yesterday at sunset we saw the first night star – we wished upon it, we were both greedy and made three wishes each.

What do you wish for?





2 thoughts on “War and the beach”

  1. Zafer says:

    I loved your blog Diana. Reading it left me with a keener sense of my significance and my insignificance, and all the shades in between. Thank you

  2. Anne says:

    Thank you Diana for articulating so beautifully some of the ways I too have been feeling during the pandemic ; so much more alive to the natural world, the span of time and our place in the universe.

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