To Christchurch with Love: Story 2


David Epston

Advice to Parents/grandparents/uncle and aunts/neighbours/school teachers/professional helpers on ‘transfusing bravery’ to those who have lost some of their bravery and now need a ‘refill’(or ‘recharge’):

Young people, under stressful or traumatic circumstances eg. home invasion, natural disaster, accident or threat to either life or well-being of him/herself or parents, can ‘lose’ their bravery almost overnight.  In fact, at times such a ‘loss’ is so devastating and rapid that the young person and his/her parents can forget that such bravery has been ‘lost’.  And if the fears persist for very long, often young people and their parents every so often come to believe that they never had any bravery in the first place. Or they all might reach the conclusion that it was fake or underdeveloped bravery; otherwise how could it have disappeared virtually overnight.   Why is that?  I suspect it has to do with the fact that ‘bravery’ is something young people acquire bit by bit for example, learning to sleep through the night despite the fears that have to be overcome to do so; or riding a bicycle despite the fears and reality of falling off until they learn how to secure your balance; or climbing a tree despite our species’ preference for walking upright on the ground. Perhaps adults with a much longer history of experiencing their bravery at times of stress or threat can recover it more readily.  They have a great deal more to metaphorically fall back on. There is a long ‘bravery’ history that they can recall in order to ‘recharge’ their own temporary ‘losses’ of their bravery. For young people, at such times of bravery ‘loss’, they are compelled to call upon their parents, older siblings, grandparents, friends, or teachers friends for safety and relief in the first instance.

I think too that regaining your bravery after having had it diminished by trauma and seismic events may be more akin to rehabilitating yourself after breaking your leg and having to convalesce for several weeks or months.  And you have been medically advised that your broken leg should not bear any of your body weight and instead your crutches bear your body weight.  I am pretty sure that no one, no matter how fit they were before their accident, has their plaster cast removed and goes back say to team sports or athletics without weeks or even months of rehab. Bravery rehab has a lot in common with the more generally understood physical rehabilitation.  If you think about it, the person rehabbing uses physical aids to bear some of their weight and they see how much they can bear on their own. If you watch, the occupational therapist will encourage them to take risks but be ready and able to lend them a hand or a shoulder to lean on.  But I suspect their greatest contribution is their encouragement, a sense that they express in their tone of voice and every part of their body that whatever the person needs to do to rehab is within their means.  I suspect that tone of voice is the courage within their encouragement that they ‘transfuse’ in to those who seek to walk again.

Under such circumstances of bravery loss, it is the most natural thing in the world for parents/family friends to give emotional shelter and comfort to their young people. Anyone would hope that such shelter and comfort will provide temporary relief from the stressful or traumatic events the young person and family have undergone. Consider how sheep mob together when a young horse threatens them in a paddock. It is well known that there is strength in numbers!  Sometimes what was presumed to be a temporary measure, much like sheep mobbing together for example,  having a young person sleep in bed with you or always having them in your company passes a point where everyone, including the young person, starts wondering if they have the Problem of Fear.  The parents usually are the first to come to this conclusion and start worrying about the young person’s fears.  I wonder if the young person says to him/herself: “What are they so afraid of?  And how can they tell me to be brave when they are so worried every time I look at them and they look at me?” One thing that is considered to be almost a law of fears is this: ‘Fears spread like germs from one to another and at times, like an epidemic or bush fire”.  What else can happen is that the young person comes to believe s/he is now permanently inadequate to the tasks of living her/his life and feels required to turn to adults to be adequate for them.  I guess this is like the wisdom about ‘falling off horses’ and the sooner you get back on one, the better.

However, in Christchurch, this has been very hard to do considering the first quake which everyone was assured was the last one and that all you had to do was wait out the aftershocks.  And many were equally reassured that they would diminish as time went by.  You just had to endure them.  And then when Christchurch was hit by another quake- even larger and more dangerous and damaging, a young person might just want to give up on ‘getting back on a horse’.  They might have the idea it would be better to mob up for many months or years to come.

Transfusing Bravery and the ritual to enact it takes the circumstances of Christchurch and the quakes and aftershocks in to account.  It accepts that anyone’s bravery, especially that of young people, can come and go and particularly in response to the relative unpredictability of seismic events.  This is admittedly unnerving for anyone, not just young people. And that anyone could have more or less of it (bravery) on hand at any time, day or night.  It would certainly be unwise to transfuse fear into a loved one in the well-intentioned but mistaken idea that your bravery is more or less fixed in you like the colour of your eyes or your height.  The first assumption is that bravery comes and goes but with luck, at any time day or night, probably someone in your home, family  or neighbourhood  has more than they need at that time. And, in fact, often a young person’s fears bring out the bravery in their parents.  There are legendary stories of parents saving their childrens’ lives by extraordinary means that under normal circumstances would have been virtually impossible or even believable- for example, a mother lifting the full weight of a car that was pinning her child beneath it.

If your family has come to the conclusion that as a family, whanau or neighbourhood, a time has come to pool its bravery, then you might like to consider the following steps to do so.  As far as I know, bravery cannot be ‘banked’ like blood in coolers that can keep it refrigerated for weeks on end.  That is where the similarity between blood and bravery transfusions breaks down.

I was okay after the first quake but like many eleven year old girls(and boys I suppose), after the second quake, the destruction of so much of my city and the deaths of so many people, I was really nervous.  I just wanted to sleep with my mum and dad all the day even though I could see they weren’t that keen on it.  It seemed to me they just couldn’t say no.  So I kept doing it.  I found myself going backwards if you know what I mean in my growing up.  Could I be growing backwards or down?  Why do I say that? Well, I couldn’t see to do any more many of the bravery things I had been able to do sometimes since I was six or seven.  I didn’t like this but what could I do about it?  I was scared what was around the next corner and those after-shocks kept reminding me of that terrible day Feb. 22nd when our city was so shaken but that so much of it fell to the ground in heaps of rubble.  Our city looked like a disaster-area and I guess it was exactly that.   I had grown up thinking that disasters don’t happen here in New Zealand but just in faraway places on the 6 o’clock news.

You can tell when you mum and dad are getting up to something and don’t want you to know all about it, can’t you?  The same goes for what you are going to get for Christmas presents and say granny’s surprise 65th birthday party at our house a year ago. The phone had rung a lot after the quakes but this time, there was something different about it.  Whenever I came in to the room where mum or dad was on the phone to someone, they looked suspicious and I could tell they were changing the subject but I overheard enough to get the gist of it.   It started dawning on me that the calls had something to do with me and my fears. “Oh no!” I dreaded my parents ratting on my to everyone, including granny who always told me I was the apple of her eye.

You won’t believe what happened next.  My parents told me that they were going to have a ‘bravery meeting’ at our house and my grandparents, uncles and aunts and get this my net ball coach were going to be there.  How could they do this to me?  Wasn’t it bad enough that I knew and they knew that I was growing backwards because of the fears!  I know this is a very big word for an eleven year old girl but fits just right- I was mortified.  I went to mum and started to cry and plead with her to cancel the meeting.  I said to her: “How can you do this to me?  Weren’t the quakes enough?  Now you are mortifying me!”  Mum asked me where I got that word from but tried to reassure me that everything would turn out well.  I went off in a huff to my room and slammed my door so she just had to hear my mortification.

Everyone showed up including some of my older cousins which of course just made matters worse for me.  Everyone milled around gossiping about the earthquakes until my granny stood up and said: “It is time everyone for this bravery meeting to begin”.  Everyone looked at me and I looked back at them.  What had I done wrong?  After all, I didn’t cause the earth quakes now did I?

My granny spoke to everyone and only every so often caught my downcast eyes when I raised them when she said something I didn’t quite get.

“Our city has been struck very hard by earthquakes and aftershocks.  Almost everyone was taken by surprise by these events as no one had predicted earthquakes here. In fact, in our recorded history, these are the first earthquakes.  What was worse that when we were reassured the worst was over, we were hit even harder, this time causing far more damage and taking many lives. Before this, we all walked around our wonderful city feeling that the ground was secure beneath our feet, beneath our buildings and churches and beneath our homes.  Many of us have temporarily lost our security and the aftershocks continually remind us of this.  When we call upon our bravery, we say we ‘are taking a stand’, do we not?  Not surprisingly, many of us have lost our convictions that we are safe on the ground we either stand or sleep on which we never used to question before the quakes.  We all know they will come back to us in time but until then, many of us are finding that our bravery, which we used to be able to count on a pretty good supply of it- in fact, perhaps more than we needed to go about our lives, has been depleted.  If this goes for adults our age, whom have known our bravery for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, we expect we will have more bravery memories to recall in order to ‘get back on our horses’ and find our way back to living our life again than our young people.  We expect it might be more difficult for kids to ‘get back on their horses’, given their bravery was in many cases half-baked or in a manner of speaking, under construction.  But even for us, we know that our bravery can come and go.


For all of these reasons, we are going to put our family and neighbourhood bravery in to a pool and anyone who needs a ‘recharge’ or a ‘refill’ can go to someone and draw upon this pool of bravery.  All you have to do- if you feel short of enough bravery to do something you want to do that you used to do before the quakes and aftershocks took some of your bravery away from you- is to turn to someone else and say: ‘Dad/mum/granddad/grandma, etc, do you have more than enough of your bravery to give me a bravery transfusion so I can sleep in my own bed tonight?”  On the other hand if we know we have more bravery than we need and it looks to us that you need a top up so you can go outside and play like you used to, we will ask you a question: ‘Do you want a bravery transfusion so you can go outside and play like you used to?”  Now, it may be that we have to admit that at this very moment, we are in short supply ourselves and can’t give any away. But if we don’t have more than enough, we assure you we will call someone else to assist you.  You might just have to wait awhile. However, it would be very silly of us to transfuse our ‘lost bravery’ in to you as that would do you no good whatsoever.  In fact, it could even deplete your bravery further. So let’s try this out now.”

Everyone looked pretty baffled by what granny has proposed.  Sure, everyone  knew what a blood transfusion was and how you went to the hospital to get one if you lost a lot of blood say in a car accident or something like that.  But what in the world was a ‘bravery transfusion’?  My brain along with everyone else’s brain was really ticking over.

I guess granny figured this out by the silence and furrowed foreheads of both young and old.  She turned to my 22 year old cousin, Tanya whom I really looked up to as like the big sister I didn’t have.  Granny asked her for her permission to show her how a bravery transfusion works.  Everyone gathered around to watch when she asked Tanya to sit down in a chair close by her.  She said: “Tanya,  looks like your bravery is in short supply right now!  Would you like me to give you a transfusion of my bravery to recharge your bravery?”  Tanya nodded her head up and down: “How can you tell that granny?”  Granny said she didn’t know how but she could.  She said it had to do with helping our mums and dads grow up and everyone has a few fears to overcome on the way to getting brave.  That it was nothing to be ashamed of.  Tanya seemed unconcerned now and told granny to go ahead with the transfusion, even though you could tell she didn’t have a clue what to expect.  But she loved granny and knew granny wouldn’t do her any harm.

She looked very kindly in to Tanya’s eyes and said:  “Can you allow me a few seconds to prepare my transfusion for you?”  Tanya nodded her head in agreement. What next we all wondered? Granny closed your eyes and  slowed her breathing down to as slow as she could make it go.  II had seen some  yoga and martial arts people doing something similar but knew granny didn’t have any of those trainings. We all watched her as she took in a deep breath and  exhaled it out as slowly as she could.  You could barely hear it.  We didn’t know at the time but she told us all about it later that she recalled  an incident from her  past where she overcame some fearful obstacle or person or situation, remembering in particular the  elation, joy or deep satisfaction she felt at having done so.

Afterwards everyone asked granny to tell us the stories she was remembering as it was clear she was up to something. One story took place when she was  an eleven year old like me.  She went to a girl’s camp which to her horror involved climbing down a cliff face with safety ropes. She wouldn’t even climb a tree let alone go up on the roof.  She told how at one point she was paralyzed with fear.  She was terrified to allow herself to go down any further but was equally frightened to try to return to the top of the cliff.  She told us how an instructor looked up at her from beneath her and patiently talked to her in the most encouraging tone. It was almost as if she could hear reassurance in her voice, so much so that not only her bravery came back to her but there was even more of it than she had expected.  And before she knew it, she had climbed down to the bottom of the cliff face.  Her instructor hugged her and told her that she was really brave.  Granny told us she was so excited and joyful that she went on to have the best camp ever.  She had worried beforehand about sleeping over but she had such fun before bedtime with her new friends that she didn’t even give that a thought.  Somehow or other, she knew she was brave enough to sleep over.

She asked us if we would like to hear another story that she reminds herself of to pump up her bravery before a bravery transfusion.  This happened some years before she retired from the high school where she had been HOD of the English Department.  She had just learned that the HOD whom she really admired was retiring and she knew that is what she wanted to do. But she had festered over the fact that she knew this would require her to occasionally take assembly.  She told that there was nothing she hated more than speaking in public but even moreso before a packed assembly of 600 teenagers.  She was finding it hard to sleep at night until she decided to talk to the Principal about her application and what was holding her back from submitting it.  When the Principal hear about this stumbling block, granny said she smiled at her and said: “I am going to be sick tomorrow! How about you taking the assembly for me?”  Granny said yes before she realized what she had done.  The Principal said:”Good luck tomorrow!  And please submit your application for the HOD position?” Granny told us that her first bravery memory was how when she got up on the stage, instead of her legs turning to jelly as she feared, she found herself speaking aloud and realized she actually enjoyed standing before the assembled students.  The Principal who obviously had made a very rapid recovery waited for her in the hallway and said to her: “You know the first time is always the hardest.  Each time after that it gets easier!”  No one had ever heard granny’s bravery stories before.

Getting back to the ‘bravery transfusion’, we watched as Granny seemed to  summon up these ‘bravery’  feelings in her body.  Then she said in a very calm voice to Tanya:

“Prepare yourself to receive a transfusion of my bravery in to you.  There is nothing that makes a granny happier and fulfilled that doing what I am about to do for you!  Now, please close your eyes and let me take your hand in mine.”  Granny sounded as she really loved Tanya. She took Tanya’s right  hand tenderly in to hers and  rubbed  the back of her hand lightly as if you were polishing a diamond of inestimable value that she was concerned she might scratch. As I was watching so intently as was everyone else,   very gradually and slowly granny tightened her grip.  She went silent but told us later she  was telling herself -but not out loud- the story of overcoming one of those  Fear  from her past.  She said that she let her  grip  tell you Tanya her story, but not in words but rather in touch.  She smiled and said she was translating her bravery story through bodily feelings into Tanya’s body.  She told us later that it was only  the story she was telling herself came to a happy ending and now believed she could feel her bravery in a manner of speaking, flowing in to Tanya’s bloodstream, she asked her: “Tanya, can you feel my bravery running in to your hand?”  Tanya’s eyes were still closed but she said: “Yes I can, granny!’  Granny asked: “Is my bravery warm or cold?”  Tanya replied: “It’s warm granny.”  “Has my bravery reached your elbow yet?””  Then granny touched Tanya on the elbow with her free hand as if she was indicating to Tanya exactly the point on her body she was referring to. She stayed silent for what seemed a long time but probably wasn’t really that long and said: “Has it reached your heart yet?”  Tanya smiled and we could see she was nodding. Granny then was sort of laughing:  “It’s going down hill now so it won’t take too long to reach your toes!” and pinched Tanya’s t big toe on her right foot. Not too much later and anticipating a satisfied customer, granny asked: “When you feel your bravery is topped up, let me know, Tanya?”  Tanya seemed to smile again and nod.

“In that case, open your eyes now!” Granny had a smile that seemed to say she was proud of both of them for sharing something like bravery”. Granny very slowly withdraw her hand but before she had it back, she said:

“Any time you need another bravery transfusion, just ask me!  Okay?  And if I need one, can I ask you for one?  I know I would really appreciate you doing that for me if I need it.  And you know that bravery can come and go after earthquakes and aftershocks”.

I think Tanya had some tears in her eyes but wiped them away when she saw everyone in the room was staring at her.  She told granny that of course she would do the same for her if granny needed a bravery transfusion.  We heard a few days later that granny had rung up Tanya and asked if she could come around as she was in short supply of bravery and knew she could count on Tanya to “fill me up if you have more than you need today”.

After this meeting, this bravery transfusion stuff really caught on in our family.  Funny because I thought it would have been really embarrassing to go to Dad for a bravery transfusion but it wasn’t at all.  And one day when he asked if I might give him a bravery transfusion and he thanked me afterwards, I felt I was really growing back from the earthquakes and aftershocks.