To Christchurch with Love: Story 1, The Renewal of Bravery


David Epston

This was conceived in response to learning that many young people were finding it difficult to go very far from their homes except to designated safe havens such as their schools.  Parents were also growing concerned that their children were very reluctant to returning to sleep in their own beds after having shared their parents’ beds for several weeks or months.

I gave considerable thought to an ‘approach’ to such problems or even what might be considered not so much a ‘problem’ but rather a ‘normal response’ eg. rehabilitation to a series of traumas.  For that reason, I refer to this matter as ‘getting your bravery back’.   I wrote this up on behalf of a colleague who had consulted me about the above in regard to Billy, aged eight.



Billy was becoming bothered by the fact that his nights were being terrorized by nightmares and his days by fears.  These bothers had begun soon after the earthquakes.  What’s more, he felt that his growing up had come to a halt.  At night, he could hear his mum and dad arguing about him with his father shouting at his mother that ‘you are too soft on him!’ and her shouting back ‘you are too hard on him!’.  When they calmed down, she would say to his father:

“What do you expect from Billy! He was getting on with his bravery like any normal eight year old boy might have.  It’s no surprise he should have a knock-back with all the worry about the shakes and after-shocks.  This has shaken my confidence and unsettled me after all. And on top of that, everyone is concerned about the reconstruction of their homes, lives and the city itself.  The quakes and the memories just can’t be shaken off just like that.  All Billy has to do is look around and he is constantly reminded of our fallen city. And  the seismologists tell us we have many more aftershocks to come in the year ahead.”

Billy’s dad thoughtfully replied:

 “I know but bravery, like fitness, needs exercising. You and I have had years of it.  Everyone knows it doesn’t take that long to use your fitness when you break your leg and for sometime you are pretty shaky on your feet. I know Billy has had a bravery set-back. But you know the old saying about falling off a horse which advises you to get back on and start riding as soon as you can.  The longer you wait after a spill, the harder it is to get back up again.

I know Billy is not doing it on purpose and how can we get him back up on his horse?”


After that, Billy couldn’t hear what they were saying. The tones of their voices really softened and all he could hear was their laughter.  This didn’t really prepare him for what happened the next day which both confused and intrigued him at the same time. After all, his happiest memories with his dad were when his father would say to him after they did a job together: “Thanks son for lending me a hand.  I couldn’t have put that four by two up without you!”

The next day, his dad asked him to take a chair beside him and draw it up closer than usual

” Billy, I have been thinking a fair bit about things the last few weeks.  And what I have got to say to you isn’t the usual thing a father my age says to his eight year old son.  Because it is most usual for a father my age to always be there and stand tall for a son your age. To be honest,  ever since the quakes and after-shocks, I have lost a fair bit of myself and find that I am not as brave as I once was and how you used to know me.  I was doing pretty well after the first quakes and after-shocks but this one and the afters have really started to get on my nerves. And I can see if I ‘don’t get back on my horse’ pretty soon, it is going to be harder for me.  That is something your grandfather used to say to me when I was your age when I would lose my nerve about something I wanted to do.  To be honest, son, I am not quite sure of how my life will go forwards now as I walk through it with everything that has happened and everything that has to happen to reconstruct our city, buildings, homes and schools.


But, son, I know one thing for certain and that is bravery does not grow on trees.  It is like fitness, you have to practice it when you or anyone else has a set-back in life like I have had and our family have had.  Son, I am going to ask you for a real favour, a favour I never thought I would ever ask you for.

Son, I need you to lend me a hand.  Will you come on some secret mystery adventures with me every Sunday morning at say 10 am.  Son, I am sure if you come along with me, I will have no trouble finding my way through any adventures we find ourselves in.  You can hold my hand any time you guess I am losing my nerve.  And can I ask you to lend me your hand if I feeI I am losing my nerve and you can’t guess?  After all, I will very likely be the first one to figure that out.

 We will each carry our own backpack of emergency rations, water and warm clothes just in case we have a bigger adventure that I thought we would have.  You never know with mystery adventures, do you?”

Why an adventure you might ask?  Well, if we just walked around a park we know really well, that wouldn’t be much of a test of our bravery, would it?  It would just be a walk around the park.  We are going to have to go to places we have never been before if we are going to have some adventures so I can get ‘back up on my horse’ and start feeling sure about knowing the way for my life again even if it is a different way that I was heading before the quakes and after-shocks.  There has to be some adventure, don’t you think, son?  I can’t get back up on my horse by sitting at home watching TV, now can I?”

Billy was both excited and apprehensive by the suspense. What did his dad exactly mean by ‘mystery adventures’?  But he knew for sure there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do to lend his dad a hand.  His dad told him as they drove that he would tell him when ‘we are getting close to the beginning of our adventure’.  Billy wondered what was the big deal when he realized that it wasn’t more than ten kilometres from their  home when his dad pulled up at a walk in the bush.

When they got out and shouldered their packs, Billy started to get pretty nervous.  Before it even get to fear, his dad held out his had toward him:

“Son, I know I am a brave father but ever since the shakes and after-shocks, I have lost my way a bit.  Will you hold my hand tightly until I tell you I have enough bravery for our mystery adventure?”

Immediately upon disengaging his hand, Billy’s dad told him:

“Wow, your bravery has got in to me and is now mine.  I feel really brave again thanks to your bravery.  It is like I am back on my horse again riding.  Let’s go and have a really good adventure in the bush!”

Every so often they would stop for emergency rations.  Billy had never tasted such scrumptious brownies in his life.  His dad turned again towards him:

  “Son, I am thankful to you for giving me some of your bravery.  I am not going to forget this.  I want you to know that from now on, you can come to me any time- day or night- if you lose your way or your bravery.  That is how we do things in our family between a father and a son.  Is that okay with you, son?”


Billy beamed with pride knowing he was lending his dad a hand when he needed it and agreed that it was certainly okay.  In fact, his dad repeated this a half hour later.  It must have been important for his dad rarely repeated himself.

Although the mystery adventure was hardly as tough as Billy was expected, his mum was waiting for them and she seemed quite concerned.

“I have wondered all day when you guys were on your mystery adventure how you would get on and would you find your way.  What happened?”

His dad replied:

 “You won’t believe this but we had a real adventure finding our way around  Rimutaka bush walk.  You know how lately after the quakes and aftershocks, I have lost my way a bit in life and my nerve.  Well, I asked Billy if he would lend me his hand and pass over some of his bravery to me if I lost my way on our mystery adventure.  I had to ask him three times before I felt I could find my way through the adventure.  You may think it is odd for a father of my age to ask his eight year old son to lend him a hand.  And that it should be the other way around!  Well, I have learned something today.  Billy can lend me a hand some times when I need a hand and I can lend him a hand whenever he needs a hand too!  I have talked to Billy about this and we agreed this is a good idea for a father and a son in our family.   But perhaps when we are all older, we will look back on this and say thanks to one another for learning how to lend one another a hand when one or all of us lose our ways in our lives.”

Billy could almost never remember his dad speaking like this before.  He thought he could see some tears in his eyes. But then his mum looked down at him and he had no doubt she had tears in her eyes:

 “Billy, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for lending your dad a hand.  I was concerned he had lost his way and when he would get back up on his horse.”

She then looked at his dad:

“And I can see Billy that your dad is well and truly back on his horse right now thanks to you.  That is not to say with all our family is going through that he or you might not fall off your horse again.  But what you both have taught me today is how we all can lend on another a hand if any of us needs it. We all have a very good family which believes that ‘all for one and one for all’ when it comes to bravery and knowing what direction we are heading in our lives.  Billy, I am grateful to you for doing what you did on your mystery adventure and love you today even more than I knew I loved you.  Why?  Because you lent your dad a hand and know that if you fall off your horse and lose your nerve, you can call on your dad or me to lend you a hand.  Billy, if you become a father some day and have a son, I know you will do something the same for him.”

Billy was surprised what an appetite this mystery adventure had given him.  And right then, he smelled a stew heating on the oven. They all decided right there and then to sit down to dinner.  His mum served him first:

 “Billy, I am serving a very big portion because you have taught our family a lesson we are never going to forget even after Christchurch is reconstructed and we start forgetting about the shakes and the aftershocks. Thanks son!”

He had never seen his dad cry before but he couldn’t have been that sad because he was smiling so much.


Of course, this can be varied in any number of ways.  I have merely chosen father-son as the adventurers; there is no reason why any other combination of family relationships cannot be deployed in similar ways (even with less elaboration).  In the above, I have gone to some lengths to elaborate this ‘approach’ so that the ‘spirit’ of ‘all for one and one for all’  inheres in almost everything that takes place.