The 2015 Kalamazoo Earthquake
Saturday, while I was sleeping in bed from the flu from the neutropenia from the chemo for the cancer …
My bed shook me awake. Yes, I did say, my BED shook me awake. I was quite sure my bed was moving, although after having been sickety sick sick sick in bed for a week and one of those day/nights was not in my bed but a hospital bed, my husband would say I wasn’t the most reliable source. However, my bed was indeed shaking. I leapt out of bed (again, something I haven’t done for quite a while) onto our hard wood floor, which was also shaking as if it were neither hard nor wood. I was alone: My husband John was at our son, Michael’s first soccer game. I ran to the bedroom window – tentatively, because I knew to stay away from windows during crazy climatic crap, but I needed to see. I was looking for a clue – but nothing.
Green grass still in its place, everything was at it should be. I still felt a rumble and ran to Michael’s room to see if the view out his window would give any clues. Blue sky above, everything as it should be.
And then everything stopped moving – and nothing changed. I looked for signs. But there were no horns honking. Nobody ran out of their house screaming. It was as if it had never happened. But I was moved, literally and figuratively.
Huh? That’s right. My house, is on top of concrete that is under and on top of ground that is on top of tectonic plates that … move and shift. We have come to believe that the earth cannot move. We humans build our whole lives around the illusion of stability, in search of things that are unchangeable. And yet the earth changes. 4.2 on the Richter Scale. The last time Kalamazoo had an earthquake that size was more than 20 years before I existed. And yet, my bed shook me awake. We are fortunate. This quake was a gentle reminder of our place in the universe. That we are simply creatures that roam on top of this planet that is a living, changing, being. We try to believe that we are in control, but we are dependent and part of this planet. It is as if the earthquake shuddered back the curtain and revealed us to ourselves as a little man with a big machine, when all along we’d believed we were the Great and Almighty OZ. We get a little peek, to remind us how fragile we really are. To remind us how little control we really have. To remind us how mortal we really are. We are so fortunate to be reminded. Our little earthquake is a wake up call. The earthquake in Nepal – that is a disaster of tragic proportions. There are no lessons there. Some good souls may find or make some good out of the devastation, but it is mostly just that – devastation. But a hiccup of an earthquake gives us a moment to reflect on our place among the cosmos.
I have felt one earthquake before.
I had just moved to Seattle for an internship at Seattle Children’s Theatre and was teaching a drama camp to a group of 4-7 year olds. We were all sitting in a circle on the floor of what seemed to be an old armory with linoleum tile floors, and enormous walls with ceiling high windows filled with tiny panes of glass. We were doing a call and response in the circle when a thundering rumbling cracked outside. Our eyes snapped to the windows looking for the impromptu thunders storm that must have approached out of nowhere. But instead there were clear blue skies. My brain was struggling to compute – clear skies… loud rumbling noise… no storm?
And then, the tiny panes of glass started shaking, the 4 story high brick walls were shaking and the rumbling turned into a snapping as visible waves lifted and separated the linoleum tiles and snapped them back together after the waves crested. We were on the far side of the gym, so we all sat dumbfounded in complete silence (yes, even the children!) eerily watching the waves of floor roll towards us like surf at the ocean. It lifted us two by two (in pairs across the circle), passed through us and sat us back down with a snap. It felt like it looks in a sci-fi movie to pass through a force field. And then the snapping sound continued as the way finished the room, shook the bricks on the other side and left with a few pings of the glass from the final wall. And then stillness. Silence. My head spinning to compute what had just happened. The image of the floor rising, separating, and bounding towards me in a wave is seared in my mind. It is an image that makes no sense to a mind that has come to trust that the earth below my feet is solid and that it stays put. Once the stun wore off, I immediately thought of after shocks. I said to the children, “OK, next time anyone feels the floor move let’s see how quickly we can race to the double door frame.” Then we played a “game” to see how many of us could fit in the doorframe at one time. We felt no aftershocks, but for a 27 year old who was newly on the West Coast and responsible for the lives of 15 children the game was a necessity.
Seeing the ground move like the ocean was incomprehensible. And so is trying to fathom our own mortality. Our nonexistence is not fathomable to us. And yet, it is the only true security we have. The only thing we know for sure is that we will die. For a species, or maybe it’s just a culture, built on the desire for permanence and certainty, our own impermanence is the only certainty we have. We could find out one day when we’re having a pesky hemorrhoid removed that we instead we have a rare cancer that could kill us. Or we could have a picnic and get swallowed by the earth nearly instantaneously.
This week I had my own earthquake of sorts. The kind that sent me to the hospital with high fevers and threats of a blood infection. The kind where all the medical staff and me are forced to wear masks and seal doors. It was a reminder that even though my body’s been managing this whole cancer thing and cancer treatment thing pretty well, things can go South very quickly. When I’m not expecting it. But this time there was no blood infection. There was the flu. The earthquake was just a hiccup, just a reminder how fortunate I am to be dancing on this earth. I am not suggesting that we live in fear of what could happen, but that we live in awareness and gratitude for the flowers blooming from the ground that gives us the illusion it is steady.