Compassion In The Face Of TragedyAuckland, Spring 2012
Auckland is a compassionate city, but I always knew this from a distance. Our IES Abroad director Andrew in a lot of ways is what I imagine Auckland would be like if it were a person: unbelievably kind, dry and humor-filled, prepared for any and every situation, a wise mentor and friend. Andrew for me is what Auckland and people from Auckland are like. They’re different than New Yorkers, as much as I love Rochester. Strangers smile at you more here, and there’s an undeniable optimism that hangs in the air, even if it has rained every day this week.
On Saturday we got a message from Andrew about the students who were a part of the van accident near Turangi. A bunch of our IES group had been away with Andrew for most of the day visiting the Otara Markets, exploring Polynesian and Pacific culture. When he sent us the message my friends and I were in Huia, an Auckland Uni dorm, making pizza and hanging out with each other. The news came as an utter shock: we had missed the media coverage in our bus transit times and afternoon naps, and didn’t know what to think. The students were all study abroad students from Boston University, U.S. students studying at Auckland University just like us. I thought of the pain the families and friends of the students must have experienced, and the helplessness of being at least a two-day plane ride away from their loved ones. It was sobering, a reminder that accidents can happen anywhere, even when having adventures in a different country. This message was quickly followed by the fact that five of our friends, who had gone hiking up Mt. Ngaruahoe that weekend, had to be evacuated via helicopter off the mountain. Luckily, they were all fine; they had just run into some unforeseen weather conditions when climbing down the mountain and couldn’t proceed, so they called the park ranger and he sent the helicopter to retrieve them. It was a tense couple of hours, though, hearing about the BU students and then not being able to reach our friends to make sure they were all right. I know that it easily could have been them who had been injured, so I’m incredibly grateful that they are safe and alive, and saddened for the other students who were hurt.
On Monday morning, my professor for my Maori in the 20th Century course said a couple of words about the students before class, letting us know that there were people on campus who were there to help if anyone needed it. On Tuesday, in my tutorial for the same class, one of my friends came up to me and told me she had worried about me when she had heard the news over the weekend, and was glad I was safe. Even the news coverage was respectful and kind, mourning the loss without exploiting the event. This outpouring of compassion really touched me, and even though I didn’t have a personal relationship with the students who were in the accident, the fact that campus was so full of love made me certain that the people experiencing this loss will have a whole student body to rely on and turn to right now. Auckland University, and Auckland as a city, showed compassion in such large and widespread ways towards these students, and it just showed me what a great capacity for love humans have.
There’s something very unique but very strange about being a university student: you’re a part of a student body of thousands or tens of thousands, but only a handful of those people you actually know. Even though you’re only one student in a sea of thousands, you’re still connected to these people: you all know the ins and outs of the campus, the best couch to nap on between classes, the most insightful professors and the ones that never give exams. Even if you never meet the thousands, you know them, because for three or four or seven years you inhabit the same space: the same space that nurtures and terrifies, that hurts and heals. I think that’s why loss on campus is felt deeper than loss in other times of life: you know these people, even if you’ve never met them, because you’ve shared experiences together by being in the same place. My heart goes out to those friends and family experiencing loss and pain right now, and my thoughts and prayers are with you always. While the students were from different places all over the U.S., Auckland University and Auckland as a city adopted them as their own while they were here. The loss is profound, but the love here is great, greater still to start to heal the hurt, one day at a time.
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