When there are no words

For most New Zealanders, the afternoon of Friday 15 March began as just another regular afternoon. I was in the office looking at proofs of our next issue of Tots to Teens. My children were at school and childcare. My friends were at their respective workplaces, homes, community activities. Around the country, Muslims were preparing for Jumu’ah, their regular Friday afternoon prayer. And then it happened.

Since Friday afternoon, we’ve been trying to find the words to describe what happened to the victims of the terrorist in Christchurch. It started off being described as a “serious firearms incident”. Eventually, this somewhat clinical description was upgraded, as it were, to other, stronger words. A senseless act of violence. An attack. A massacre. Are these words big enough, meaningful enough, respectful enough, powerful enough?

I don’t know.

As we watched the news unfold, we as parents were also lost for words. How could we explain this to our children? How could we find the words to tell them about things like white supremacy, gun violence, terrorism, Islamophobia? How do we unpack these complex issues that even adults don’t fully understand, tell it to them in a kid-friendly way, and then explain how this happened here in New Zealand, of all places? We now know, perhaps more painfully clearly than ever before, that “that sort of thing” does, in fact, happen in New Zealand. And what’s worse, now our children know it, too. How could we find any words that will reassure them?

I don’t know.

When there are no words, I think that all we can do is reach out to one another. To our friends, family, and neighbours, certainly. To our Muslim communities, definitely. When I think that I have no words, I realise that my struggle pales in comparison to the friends, families, and neighbours of those who lost someone in the terror attack, or Muslims who feel utterly betrayed by this country that is their home, a place where they should be safe. How are they explaining it to their children?

I don’t know.

It has taken me a long time to write this editor’s letter. I’ve been dreading it, because I know that nothing I say will be quite right, even though I’m a wordsmith and it is literally my job to find the right words. I don’t say that to excuse my inadequacy, but to perhaps explain it, and ask for help with what I don’t know. What words have you found to be helpful and hopeful? Better yet, what actions have you done that have made strides toward equality, understanding, justice, and love?