Flowers are not the answer. Not in small bunches stuck in fences or piled high in ever-growing mini-mountains of dying stalks and once bright blossoms.
Thousands of flowers marking the sites of 21st Century massacres and all placed reverently but untidily with messages of love and respect by people for people they never met, never knew.
Most of the floral tributes carry messages of goodwill for the victims of the latest barbaric execution. At the time of this writing, the most recent slaughter occurred a week ago in Christchurch, New Zealand, but given the current state of insanity in the world – heaven forbid – it could have been equalled or surpassed by now.
New Zealand, population around four million, is roughly the same size as the Canadian province of British Columbia. It is a peaceful country boasting no poisonous snakes or other dangerous wildlife and possessing a natural beauty that matches or surpasses any other country in the world. It is not hard to find travellers who endorse those claims – and the more important one that New Zealanders, whether native Maori or more recent immigrant stock, have created a most hospitable nation.
The national response to the tragedy that saw 50 New Zealanders executed while at prayer was a lesson to other nations, great and small, on how to handle a major crisis without creating panic in the general population.
The first-responder reaction was swift, culminating in the arrest of the Australian gunman. The arrest is significant because for us in Canada, who see all too often similar mass shootings in the USA, rarely is the assassin taken alive.
It was a time of high emotion, a time when the smallest of verbal sparks could create an explosive crowd reaction.
Within hours of the mass killing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, 38, called a press conference to address the nation. It was a classic act of leadership and quite Churchillian in tone. Blunt from the outset, she quickly mastered the quaver in her voice to earn a headline in The Guardian newspaper: “Real leaders do exist: Jacinda Ardern uses solace and steel to guide a broken nation.”
The morning following the tragedy she was in Christchurch with, The Guardian tells us, “the majority of her cabinet ministers and opposition leaders, meeting with members of the Muslim community … She held them in her arms as they sobbed, whispering words of condolence and pressing her cheek against theirs.”
The following day, she was reporting to parliament with a tribute to the Muslim community. Her first words were in Arabic: “As-salaam-alaikum (Peace be upon you).” A silent house listened as she told them “one of the roles I never anticipated having and hoped never to have, is to voice the grief of a nation.”
She has never voiced the name of the shooter and says she never will. She urged others to do the same. “He sought notoriety … it was one of his goals … we will deny him that.” She hasn’t asked the media specifically to do the same, which is a pity because it controls the notoriety factor.
This brings me round-robin, back to flowers which have become a mandatory sign of caring when disasters major or minor occur in public places. I accept the fact that the people who buy the flowers and place them do so in kindness of heart – but I think they could deliver a better message.
PM Ardern listed an alternative when she named actions she was taking in the aftermath although she never mentioned floral tributes. She did tell survivors of the mass shooting that they would be supported financially if the need arose.
It was a comforting assurance, not as pretty as a bunch of roses, but far more practical and longer lasting.
On Friday, one week after the shootings shocked the nation, the PM called for a national day of prayerful remembrance. “We are broken hearted,” she told the world and her people, “but we are not broken.” The call to prayer was the traditional “adhan” made to every corner of New Zealand via national television and radio. The prime minister said she wanted survivors and the world to know “New Zealand mourns with you; we are one.”
And I am left wondering if Canada could find a similar voice, calm but defiant and reassuring in a time of a major national crisis? Or whom among our provincial leaders BC could confidently follow through and beyond adversity .