[This article was written for the Manukau Courier and published 23 February 2017 – link]
While my sister and brother-in-law’s grass fire was getting under control in Central Hawkes Bay, they were thanking God and their lucky stars that the fire circumnavigated their house and woolshed. Fire had engulfed over 180 hectares (445 acres) of their farm between Friday 10 to Sunday 12 February. Little did anyone realise the imminent firestorm about to ignite a few kilometres away in Wairmarama and then the devastation on the Port Hills of Christchurch. In fact these are only three of the many grass fires that have spread across New Zealand this summer alone. At the time we seemed to be more focused on the Australian bush fires when our own backyard was going up in flames.
Fortunately my sister and family did not lose any property or stock. Their fire seemed small in comparison to the property damage of Wairmarama, and the massive destruction on the Port Hills and the loss of life of Steve Askin, the pilot of the helicopter that crashed. I met Steve once, and it was a privilege to meet a man who served his country and died trying to save the lives and property of his fellow Cantabrians. My deep aroha goes out to his whanau as they grapple with this tragic loss.
Why do these things happen? Why do some suffer great loss, and others don’t? How do we make sense of these things?
I have clear memories of a grass fire as a young lad, in Tikokino, Hawkes Bay, back in the late 1970’s. Two things about that fire stick out for me more than anything. First, my Mother’s determination to put out the fire. Us older kids worked feverishly alongside her with sacks trying to stop the fire coming into our house. The heat and seemingly inexhaustible fire left us totally spent, but we were inspired by our mum, on her hands and knees, beating every last flame and ember near her in an attempt to save the family home.
Secondly, I remember the miracle of the fire’s movement around our house. As heroic as our mum was, and as feeble as our attempts at helping her, it was no match for the raging fire that moved quickly across the tinder dry flatland from the North, in a Southerly direction. The speed of fire was so fast that farmers lost stock in paddocks, evidenced after the fire by perished sheep stacked in Southern corners trapped by the fences there to protect them. Yet miraculously the fire, which should have consumed our house, was completely untouched. Experts will have put it down to the wind shifts, or the starving of fuel as the reason, and on a scientific level they maybe right, but I rather think there was a heavenly miracle going on for us, for some reason.
Like my sister and her family, we were spared. Yet others have lost property, or worse a loved one. Why?
To be honest I don’t know, but somewhere in the midst of it all I wonder if there is some kind of heavenly plan for humanity. We don’t know when tragedy will hit, and why our possessions or livelihood might get lost, or why some of us survive and others don’t. I was taught that good comes out of tragedy and I can testify to that at different times in my life. I find that when I am spared of a potential calamity it causes me to reflect on what I have yet to do in this life. I know, in time, my sister and her family will be doing this, as will countless others this summer thankful for their lives after the tragedies of fire. Knowing the whanau of Steve Askin, I know they will reflect on life as part of their grieving, and my personal prayer for them is that they will see a heavenly miracle emerge that will answer, for them, the why question.
But here’s the thing, we don’t have to wait for calamity to strike. We can stop now, reflect on the loss suffered by others and think about our own lives now. Why are you here? What’s your purpose? Reflect and make an effort to do everything you can to be the person you are supposed to be. Don’t wait for tragedy to hit to force you to do that!
Until next time, ka kite ano!