Sunday, March 13, 2011

these little earthquakes

Of course, what's happening in Japan is tragic. But what I don't understand is why people feel so surprised and betrayed when the earth moves.

Maybe if you live in a city, you don’t see it, but the evidence of violence is all around us. This is a restless planet, crisscrossed with fault lines. The tectonic plates shift uneasily beneath us. Hulks of ancient and not-so ancient volcanoes loom over us. The lakes basin I walk through, the product of an immense hunk of ice. Wind, wave, earth, nothing is stable. The more astonishing thing is that it does not happen more often.

It’s the same with the little earthquakes of our lives. Sometimes, without warning, fractures appear, cracks in a relationship, a family, a friendship. This is the unmapped terrain of the heart, a place where we sail bravely, expecting people to be perfect, a relationship to be smooth as glass. Until it isn’t and we feel the same sting of betrayal.

Mount Mazama ash, deposited hundreds of miles away on a trail I hiked yesterday.

As I fumble toward commitment to a place and a person, it’s inevitable that fissures and shocks can occur. Like the people I shared a meeting with in an earthquake, it’s not always clear how to react. Stay inside under a desk, hoping it will go away? Run outdoors and look up to the debris falling? Patch it together and keep going?

Hells Canyon, carved out by a persistent river.

There’s no bitter story here, no sudden revelations. It’s just that the two recent earthquakes have caused me to think about this. I have a marriage in the books that was eroded more like slow rain and river than by a sudden eruption. Now, embarking on another one, I wonder how we will weather our own storms. Can anyone really be prepared for an earthquake?

The answer of course is in how you respond. I think of Roger, making the doomed decision to let another firefighter share his shelter during a firestorm, one that neither man survived. My friends, battling cancer in the trenches right now, their fates uncertain. The ones who did not make it but passed on with grace. All our brave, fragile ships out there searching for calm water.

Peace to those in Japan and Christchurch.


  1. I love this post. One of my favorite by you so far. I often ponder the earth and why folks are surprised and victimized when it decides to fury. I predict as more catastrophes happen, folks will start choosing where they live/settle due to geology of the landscape, to have some (if little) control over them, i.e. near the center of a tectonic plate


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