Last Friday night at a few minutes after nine I was walking toward the glass door to the foyer of my church, ready to lock up, when the door rattled like someone was banging on it from the inside. But I could see through the door and there was nobody there. The rattling was brief, but furious, and I heard neighborhood dogs start barking. I knew what was happening. I froze in place, but felt nothing. But 50 miles away a 5.1 earthquake had shaken Orange County and surrounding Southern California. I went into the building with the plethora of glass all around and checked all the doors, a little nervous now because this building creaks and shudders even when the earth doesn’t move. But nothing else happened, so I went home to Facebook and Twitter.
I know earthquakes are part of living in Southern California. I enjoy the media’s depiction of typical Californians casually sitting through the minor temblors while sipping their half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon. But I haven’t turned native yet and quakes still make me nervous. I don’t really care for them.
I was fascinated with natural disasters as a kid. Tornadoes terrified and intruded me. I kept magazines with articles about earthquakes. One cover showed the Golden Gate Bridge buckling and cars spilling off into the bay.
I watched a kid’s TV show that had adventuring teens dealing with emergencies and natural disasters. One time, when they experienced a quake, a few of the kids tried to run for shelter. Another one called to them to stay out in the open. The shelter the kids had been going for collapsed and they stayed safe in the clear space. I took this as an important lesson. If and when an earthquake hits, don’t run for cover, get out from under anything.
Then one evening when was living in Hawaii, I was about 8 or 9 years old and lying on the living room floor. Something started. I noticed that it felt like there was a vibrating machine underneath me. The floor was trembling. My mom saw hanging plants swinging and declared that we were having an earthquake.
Panic slammed into me. I jumped to my feet and ran for the door to get outside before the house came down on me. It was for only a flash, but I had never been more scared in my life. My mom called to me and I stopped and looked back, suddenly aware that I was almost crying, but the house was intact and there was no more shaking.
Up until that evening, I had never known that there was such a thing as a minor earthquake.
Who would have thought that the same thing that tossed cars of a bridge and turned buildings to rubble could also do no harm? I don’t blame my parents for never telling me this. I learned the fact that night, even though I could barely sleep. But before that, my young mind never grasped that there might not be a worst case scenario in everything. Quakes happening with no damage. Someone escaping injury hurt in a car accident. Tornados ripping through empty land without ever sucking kids into oblivion.
Someone might have told me that the world is not that inhospitable. Maybe I would have believed them. But the barrage of disasters in the media might have made me doubt.
At least last Friday I didn’t panic, I’m grateful for that. And I’m glad that today my kids know that minor things happen and no-one gets hurt. Real life taught them that. Maybe it’s too bad the media never reports a perfect day where nature is nice and everyone ends the day unscathed.