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Gutted kiwis eat humble pie

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A Modern ErasmusWell, there it was, the whole of New Zealand gutted. France in, the All Blacks out. As always our men had performed their haka. We lifted up our hearts, choked down our emotions, and prepared ourselves for glory. But it wasn't to be. The magic didn't work.

Our hopes initially soared heavenward. The first half really lived up to all expectations. Carter kicked like a man inspired. Line-outs were won with monotonous regularity. We were so obviously on top at half-time, despite that officious English referee. Like millions of others I rushed out for a quick fix of coffee and spooned in some müsli. I even nurtured quite generous thoughts about the French who had tried so hard, but were not, alas, in our league.

Then came the second half. Unbelievable. No justice in this universe.

We invested $50 million in this team, the front page of my newspaper screamed the next day. But of course it was the emotional investment that really cost. We had been betrayed, cosmically, and we found a discourse to express this. Never has the word ‘gutted' been used so frequently before in this fish-obsessed country.

'Gutted' — a biblical, bowel-evoking word if ever there was one. St Erasmus, you may remember, was the most notable victim of gutting, his martyrdom consisting of his entrails being wound out of him by a sort of capstan, or so the stained glass windows would have us believe. Today we Kiwis stand shoulder to shoulder with saints and martyrs such as Erasmus. Our Otago hero, Anton Oliver, even likened the post-match desolation to the smell of death at Passchendaele.

These French, of course, have a habit of gutting us. And not only at rugby, though 1999 was solemnly and repeatedly remembered. It was not so long ago that their agents mined and scuttled the Rainbow Warrior. And got away with it, too. Unforgotten. Unforgiven.

So, yes, we're gutted. Don't underestimate our pain, please. It's not just in the pubs and clubs that grown men have been reduced to tearful dissolution. At Satay stalls, manned by gentle figures with scant resemblance to front row forwards, huddled figures know only one topic of conversation; and among the crisp women in the computer centre, one has to choose one's words and gestures these days with the utmost pastoral sensitivity.

We're all on edge. Even I, as a soccer dude, a life-long supporter of Hibernian (doing very nicely this year in the Scottish Premier League, thank you), was devastated.

As one astute columnist pointed out, however, this dark hour could conceal within it priceless spiritual gains. For example, we now know, existentially, what it means to be among the downtrodden of the earth. Such solidarity in pain with the oppressed could open up quite new horizons, and the suffering itself will be ennobling, character-building. Humility is already becoming our second name.

Graciousness, too. When our conquered heroes limped back into Christchurch, expecting derision or worse, 2000 of us crammed into the concourse of the airport to welcome them back. Children held assurances of eternal support. 'All is forgiven', another newspaper headline emphasised.

This might, on first blush, appear to show considerable forbearance on our part, but what is our suffering, after all, compared with theirs? If we are gutted, the players are disembowelled. If we have wept, they have been driven to pile up enormous bar tabs and take out their agony on cars conveniently parked outside their London Hilton.

How will they ever cope with the guilt of having let down the sorrowing millions on the home front? How will they face down the intolerable embarrassment about the stratospheric financial rewards they have been pocketing? Lonely and terrible hours lie ahead for them, not least as they have to renegotiate their advertising contracts.

A few rat-bags, true, have gone bananas on talk-back radio, attacking the ref, piling into poor old po-faced Graham Henry, alarming the women's refuges by their ungoverned rage and search for scapegoats. Yet the fundamental, Edmund-Hillary decency of the Kiwi character will shine through in the end. You just wait and see.

For deep in our heart, we know that all this pain must be teaching us something. Maybe our affections have been in the past just a shade inordinate, the hype over the top? Maybe the entire focus of our national hopes and fears need not centre on the try line? Perhaps, to deploy the ultimate sacred term in the anthropologist's vocab, our 'identity', the thickening history of our 'we', could be located beyond the green sward? Could the Garden of Eden conceivably lie elsewhere?

Humility, graciousness, forgiveness, long-suffering; all these we are learning. Could the next step be an eschatology which is a tad less realised; a shift of some of our yearnings from All Black to All Green; even a utopian willingness to look at alternatives to the double predestination fatalism of the market economy?

Across the ditch, we know, you Australians are suffering too. In our shared affliction we are surely being drawn together, Heidegger-like. Could a joint team for the Beijing Olympics, perhaps, be the first step, so we can embrace the smog and the hypocrisy together? Now there's a thought. All Black and All Gold.

Peter MathesonRev Dr Peter Matheson is Emeritus Professor of Church History in the Theological Hall, Knox College, in Dunedin. He is a scholar of the 16th Century Reformation, and is currently researching the writings of Argula von Grumbach, a contemporary of Martin Luther.





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Existing comments

I really enjoyed this article Peter -thanks - as a frequent visitor to New Zealand over the years as consultant and tourist, I am a great admirer of your country and people, and being a rugby tragic, of course the All Blacks but...for years I've been wanting to say to Kiwis,'Please don't put so much of your national identity with the All Blacks - brilliant as they are' When I think of the New Zealand explorers, film makers, opera singers, diplomats, education leaders, leaders in world peace initiatives etc etc, I wish Kiwis would celebrate more their magificent country and people without too much focus on the fate of the All Blacks - I know this is an ignorant Aussie writing this but...

Kevin Treston | 19 October 2007  

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