We live on a trembling earth. The new earthquake in Japan with its horrific tsunami, the unimaginable loss of life and the nightmare of a possible nuclear meltdown remind us, after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, that nature runs us in a big way. Earth is very old, it has gone through its cycles and repeats again what it has done in the past. Mankind is a new phenomena on the planet and even though we have become the top dogs here, we are no match for the land when it shows its moods, its might and power.
The awful destruction in Japan reminds me of how vulnerable and insignificant creatures we are after all. Even if we construct the incredibly tall buildings like in Dubai, and set huge bridges across the water like the Kobe-Awagi bridge in Japan, carve long tunnels like the Delaware Aqueduct in New York, set rails across countries, all our tectonic plates have to do is shake a bit and we are at risk of losing it all.
In 1974 I lived in Lima, Peru, when a very bad earthquake took me by total surprise early in the morning as I was bathing my young daughter while my son rode his bicycle outside in the front of the house. The noise started slowly at first and intensified to an indescribable roar; a sound I will never forget. I hurriedly took my daughter to the middle of the garden where the terrified maid had already taken refuge and handed her my daughter. I went back inside the house while the earth was shaking and books and things were falling down all around me; the earth, normally always under my feet, was failing my every step, undulating wildly. I found my neighbors all in a circle hugging each other on the moving street and my son, on his bike. He ran toward me and said innocently "Mom, is there something wrong?" I grabbed him frantically, ran again inside the house and rejoined the maid and my daughter. It was still shaking and the walls of our living room were parting in the middle like a big mouth opening and closing. Our cat was trying frantically to climb over the tall wall covered with ivy. I thought the shaking would never end. My husband came home horrified, took his cameras and went through the devastated city numb under a cloud of dust and debris that hovered for days. Lima was a sad sight.
The aftershocks were so many one could not find a Valium anywhere in town. It lasted over a month with some tremors strong enough to scare the daylight out of you. I went to bed every night with my car and house keys and my purse next to my bed in case I had to wake up the kids and quickly escape the place at night. It was a sheer nightmare. This was "only" an earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale compared to Japan's recent 9.1. But it killed 304 people and devastated over 4000 buildings. I had been in earthquakes before in Mexico where the maid had jumped in my arms after my mother, who was visiting was telling me the advantages of having an older maid who would be the responsible one. We both had a good laugh over it afterward. Because of my familiarity with many earthquakes and their aftermath in many countries, including Colombia, I identify enormously with all the human beings that suffer through them and their inevitable aftershocks and huge destruction.
I found out that the earth shakes all the time. Most days and everywhere. Many of its movements are felt and many are barely noticed. But once a big one happens, the whole community of countries is alert since we have become this global village with the speed of our instant communications and instant messages plus the world-wide presence of the internet.
So we are not safe ever. Safety is an imaginary feeling, the calming thought that we are okay, but it is just a dream. I think of the importance of living life doing what we love and loving all the people that touch us and inspire us to be more than we are. I think of all our family of friends and blood and the need to share our love and our feelings. The need to say what we think and express who we are. The need to be honest with ourselves and honor our integrity.
After all, we are just creatures moving on big tectonic plates fighting odds against the planet with the possibility of seeing our creations destroyed. It may happen and it may not. We can only hope for the better. It takes a lot of courage and a sort of huge arrogance to do what we as humans do. But earth will survive. It has been a part of the galaxy for eons of time. Our beautiful Milky Way that we observe in total awe at night.
We may go on and survive as a species and we may not. Time will tell.
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Copyright 2011 Micheline Brierre
Edited by Barry Kaplan