Certainty is one of those things that we never realise how much we appreciate it until we don’t have it. I’ve realised that I am lacking certainty, and right now, I miss it dreadfully.
If you have been following my blog for a while you’ll remember that I live in Christchurch, NZ where we have been ravaged by a procession of earthquakes since September, 2010. The quakes have finally died away (pretty much) but we live with the aftermath on a daily basis.
The most devastating quake to hit the city was on 22 February 2011. People died, buildings collapsed, and lives would never be the same. My home sustained substantial damage including basically splitting the building into three pieces and knocking it off its foundations in one corner. But hey, after some emergency repairs it was deemed liveable. It’s just not entirely weather-proof (it’s winter here, so I’m feeling that) and the floor slopes to one side. Aesthetically it doesn’t look too good, but then there are many worse off than me.
Since then, certainty vanished. I have little idea whether the house can be fixed, or whether it will end up being demolished. I know that to fix it will take some major work, not to mention money. In New Zealand we have a government agency, the Earthquake Commission (EQC), whose responsibility it is to fund the repairs of damage caused my natural disasters. That funding is through a tax levy on insurance.
EQC has become the organisation we love to hate. Personally I think a lot of that is justified. Between them and my insurance company (that’s another story entirely because they literally fled the country) they hold my life in their hands. My certainty is at their mercy.
For some residents of Christchurch, including my parents, their future was determined on the day of that quake. Their home was immediately deemed only fit for demolition, and they were instantly homeless. Not entirely homeless, because they just shifted into my home, until we were able to find a new home for them some months down the track.
That would clearly be devastating for anyone, and there were thousands of people in that boat. I don’t wish that for myself, but sometimes I think it would have been a bit easier. At least I would know. At least I could get on with my life.
But instead life stopped that day, and it’s been a waiting game ever since (for me, and thousands of other residents in the same boat). Will my home survive? I don’t know. Will I have to shift out? And where will I go? I don’t know. Will there be a fair settlement? I don’t know. I’m just waiting.
So today as I write, there is a small army of assessors from EQC roaming my property. This was last done in September 2011 but they have come to the conclusion that the assessment they did at that time was not accurate. Basically they didn’t take into account that my home is physically joined to three others. How could they miss this fact? I don’t know. This has particular implications for me because my foundations need to be repaired and to lift the house in order to do that, they would probably have to lift the other houses too. That starts to sounds complicated, expensive and possibly simply not worth it.
As this team of EQC staff (I think there are about 10 and apparently they are combining the assessment with a staff training exercise) go through my property (and my neighbours) inside and out, I wonder just what will be the result. I certainly won’t know this today, and I suspect it will be months more before I get any certainty from them. That’s just the pace they work at. And this… is just life.
So does certainty matter? Is it something I need to ensure lasting mental health even? I’m inclined to think it does matter, simply because I like to know what is ahead. Even if change is ahead, at least if I know, then I can prepare for it (mentally and physically). But in this situation that’s not possible. It’s no worse for me than for many other residents of this city. We all face this indeterminate wait, with a foreboding that our future is in someone else’s hands.
Perhaps the major thing that I have learnt in this whole earthquake nightmare (which included the subsequent death of my father) is to live one day at a time. The only problem is that sometimes it is just so damn hard to do that.
Some days I can do the ‘one day at a time’ philosophy. I can accept that at some stage I am going to have to leave my home, either permanently, or temporarily while repairs are undertaken. That I don’t know when that will be, and when it happens I probably won’t get much warning.
But other days, like last night when I was trying to sleep, it just seems all too much. I just want to know. I just want that certainty of what is ahead. Some days I can live with the uncertainty, but on others it seems like my entire mental health rides on those 10 EQC assessors who are here today. But then here in Christchurch, that is the only certainty so many of us have.
“The world is a wonderfully weird place, consensual reality is significantly flawed, no institution can be trusted, certainty is a mirage, security a delusion, and the tyranny of the dull mind forever threatens — but our lives are not as limited as we think they are, all things are possible, laughter is holier than piety, freedom is sweeter than fame, and in the end it’s love and love alone that really matters.”
― Tom Robbins