Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dispatches from Middle Earth, Part IV: The Cloud Piercer's Lament

(While this technically wraps up my earlier series of posts about New Zealand and mine and Carrie's time there, this is much more than a "what we did" post.  Rather, the themes I write of here reverberate far beyond any one country or place, and I hope that they speak to you as well.  I believe that they will. ~E.A.)

In the middle of our honeymoon, Carrie and I went for some hiking on the tallest  mountain in New Zealand, Aoraki/Mt. Cook.  Mt. Cook is the mountain's Anglo name (after the captain who "discovered" New Zealand); Aoraki is its Maori (the indigenous peoples of NZ) name.

"Aoraki" is difficult to translate accurately into English; traditionally, though, the name was translated as "Cloud Piercer," which, at least when C and I visited it, was plenty accurate, with its 12,000+ foot peak jutting majestically through the clouds.

It holds a lot of appeal to hikers and mountaineers for obvious reasons: beyond being the country's highest peak, it is incredibly, almost unfairly, beautiful.  Edmund Hillary is said to have trained on Mt. Cook in preparation for his successful run at Mt. Everest in 1953.  And when the sun is out, the glaciers and glacier lakes shimmer in an almost otherworldly etherealness.

It also is a deadly peak, having claimed the lives of a number of people ever since the early 1900s.  Early on the Hooker Valley trail, you can take a short walkoff to the memorial that stands in memory to the people who went to rest on the mountain forever:

The front of the monument contains a plaque with the original names for whom the monument was erected:

But as you begin to walk around the entire monument, you begin to grasp the sheer scope and scale of the loss of life that has happened here:

What I found most remarkable about this was that the plaques were dedicated to people literally from all over the world, who had nothing else in common except that they died here, on the slopes of Aoraki.

It reminded me--cheesy though it may be..,no, scratch that, cheesy though it most definitely is--of the lesson Harry Potter was taught in his choice of Gryffindor when he was sorted into Hogwarts: that it is, in the end, our choices which define us, and just as Harry's choice helped define him from Voldemort, so too do our choices still hold sway on how we are remembered--in a loved one's scrapbook, in a folded, creased obituary copy in a drawer, or in a plaque, potentially thousands of miles from where you were born and raised, marking the spot upon which you passed from this life into life eternal.

And there were many beautiful monuments elsewhere that Carrie and I saw marking that passage into life eternal for New Zealand's heroes who served on her behalf in the World Wars...like this one in Queenstown, commemorating Queenstown's dead in World War I and demonstrating that not all arches are necessarily triumphant:

And this walled monument to the fallen of Auckland during World War II in the Auckland Museum:

All of the reverence of a war memorial that you'd expect is present in this hall of names, panel after panel, wall after wall, of the names of the dead, and yet, the memorial does not end merely on its past.  At its end, there is the glimmer not merely of optimism or of hope, but of almost desperation in the plea for a world in which the swords are beaten into plowshares and the spears are beaten into pruning hooks:

Let these panels never be filled.

Let the lone bare wall on the monument upon the Cloud Piercer's slopes never be filled.

Let the blank spaces awaiting more names on war memorials the world over never be filled.

Let our need to memorialize the deaths of our heroes be extinguished, not for lack of heroes, but for lack of need for their heroics in the face of violence.

And then maybe, maybe, the God driven by our hatred from the depths of our hearts and from the deepest regions of our souls will return to the broken earth once more.

It is a hope I still have.

Yours in Christ,

All photos from Eric Atcheson.

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