Even when we don’t share the same faith, this is a time of celebration as we bid the year goodbye and look forward to the year ahead. It should also be a time of giving and sharing

Opinion: At the weekend I attended a celebration with the local Bangladeshi community. It was a wonderful chance to come together to celebrate their Victory Day and to reflect on the friendship we had forged over the years.

They had gathered some of the wider community to come as well, and we talked about what we had been through together, especially in recent times. They also wanted to acknowledge my time in public office and to assure me our friendship was a lasting one.

It meant a lot to me to be part of this occasion.

March 15 families retraumatised by state
The intriguing social media response to the Christchurch mosque attacks

It caused me to think about the significance of turning up for each other – whether in good times or in bad, whether in public office or in private life.

When we turn up to celebrate joyous occasions, we become better prepared to turn up in times of crisis or need.

When we get to know each other when times are good, we have a strong foundation for knowing what to do when things go wrong.

The tragedy of the 2019 terrorist attack on members of Christchurch’s Muslim community on March 15 brought us together in circumstances no one would have anticipated. Yet we instinctively came together as a community to offer support. New relationships were forged, and existing friendships were strengthened.

We felt the power of the Muslim community’s response, calling for unity in the face of an act designed to divide us, and asking for peace, love and compassion for all. The offer of forgiveness that was expressed by Farid Ahmed, one of the attack survivors, invited us all to look inside ourselves in a way that was enormously challenging in the face of what had occurred. Farid did so based on his faith and has continued to speak nationally and internationally on the kind of world we can be when we spread love.

Reflecting on 2022, I can see the true impact of the pandemic. Turning up was something we were not able to physically do, and yet it is the very essence of who we are, the essence of humanity. 

And that leads me to this time of the year when we turn up for each other. Families will come together, acknowledging that many won’t have been able to do so for nearly three years.

And this coming together extends beyond our families. Even when we don’t share the same faith or beliefs, this is a time of celebration as we bid the year goodbye and look forward to the year ahead. It is also a time of giving and sharing.

Sadly, this has become commercialised to the extent that we are encouraged to buy things we can’t afford and don’t need, and which add to the mountain of waste our planet cannot absorb.

Our family has decided to make a practice of giving to a cause rather than to each other. We are taking turnabout at choosing a charity and this year one of my sisters has chosen Women’s Refuge. We can each buy as many nights of accommodation at the refuge as we can afford. It is an extremely worthwhile and sadly necessary cause.

It is tragic that this time of the year always sees an increase in family violence. I often wonder if this is connected to the financial pressures that are placed on families, coupled with the alcohol that flows freely at end-of-year functions. These seem to offer an excuse for the exercise of power and control in the one sphere the perpetrator has available to them.

In the spirit of giving and sharing, I think we need to keep an eye out for those who are vulnerable and offer a helping hand where we can.

I suspect I am not alone in hoping 2023 will be an improvement on what the 2020s have offered so far. However, I am unsure whether that will be the case. Covid is by no means over, and the increased cost of living will weigh heavily on many people. 

And it’s election year. On the positive side, I am hopeful the things we learned from our experience of the pandemic will continue to hold true. By this I mean things such as continuing to value the people who work in what we acknowledged are our essential services, including health, education, public transport, supermarkets and delivery services. They cannot become political footballs during the election campaign only to be kicked into touch once the election is over.

I also hope we can take on some of the challenges we face as a nation on a non-partisan basis, but I suspect in the light of what is likely to be the focus of the campaign, that is wishful thinking.

I wish all Newsroom readers a safe and happy holiday, and for 2023, as in every year, unity, peace, love and compassion. They matter to us all.

Newsroom columnist Lianne Dalziel served 32 years in politics, as Christchurch East MP, Minister of Immigration, ACC and Commerce, and then as Mayor of Christchurch.

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