The Ides of March

Bewilderment, sorrow, compassion, repugnance, anger – it’s a toxic confusion, clouded, above all, by disbelief. How the hell did this happen? This is not the New Zealand I’ve come to know and love – with its freedom, its welcoming people, its tolerance, its diversity, the friendly smiles, the uncomplicated lifestyle.

All changed in a 15-minute slaughter.

What another, awful blow for Christchurch, a city just beginning to claw its way back from the devastation caused by a series of catastrophic earthquakes. This cruel irony’s reflected in multiple ways and on multiple levels. Many of the victims were immigrants – like me – looking for a better, more peaceful life. Until March 15, they thought they’d found paradise.

The irony extends even to this very issue of the magazine. Matt Vance’s piece – River of Healing – sketches the optimism of a group of paddlers celebrating the post-quake recovery of the Avon River as it meanders its way through the city. It would be hard for them not to be feeling a little hollow right now.


And yet, I have faith. We have to – the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. We are a resilient people. We cannot – must not – allow this act of insanity to reshape our lives. As our PM observed, this nutter represents everything we are not. We will rise above this.

March 15, by a sinister twist of fate, is a date that’s carried ominous overtones for more than 2,000 years. In Roman times it was called the ‘Ides of March’ – a day filled, ironically, with religious observances. More prosaically, it was also the annual deadline for all citizens to settle their debts.

Most notoriously though, in 44BC it was the day on which Julius Caesar was assassinated – betrayed and stabbed in the back by a bunch of his most trusted senators. This event is famously portrayed in William Shakespeare’s play – Julius Caesar – where a seer warns Caesar to “beware the Ides of March.” To his peril, he ignores the warning. The Ides of March have ever since been associated with devastating events and chaotic change.

Caesar’s death was a turning point in Roman history. It not only marked the end of democracy and the Roman Republic, it spawned decades of civil unrest and centuries of totalitarianism.

It’s hard to imagine Christchurch – and the wider New Zealand – emerging unscarred from March 15, 2019. But we have to banish the betrayal and embrace the goodwill that lives on.

Ma’a Salama – go in peace

Lawrence Schäffler