My Totally Inconsequential Earthquake Experience
For those of you who are used to earthquakes, you’ll just have to bear with me. I live in Virginia and we’re simply not accustomed to that kind of thing. I was in my thirties before I experienced my first quake, a lowly 3.1 or something. And that was soon enough for me. That measly little three-pointer would have lasted me a lifetime. Think 100 by 100. An interesting thing to experience, but I was in no hurry for it.
Again, I apologize in advance for my pure lack of earthquake experience. I understand that this little shaky shaky we had here was nothing (in comparison). But it still rocked my little world.
So, the technicalities. It was a 5.8 on the Richter scale, according to the U. S. Geological Survey, and it was the strongest earthquake to hit Virginia since May of 1897. It was centered in Mineral, which is about 40 miles from Fredericksburg where I was at work minding my own business.
At 1:51pm, I was working in our upstairs stockroom, behind schedule. When the shaking first started, it felt like a huge truck was passing by – you know that feeling. But it continued too long and then I recognized it as an earthquake. Because I’m so experienced from the first one. To be honest, I was mostly annoyed. The mind does weird things, and I was thinking, “I don’t want this to be happening; I don’t have time for this!”
Perhaps I should have been thinking about safer places to stand. That first earthquake prepared me for about a minute of light shaking, china rattling level, and then it would be over. But this was different. Right about the time when I was really getting annoyed that it wasn’t over, it got WORSE. And loud.
A rough outline of what I was thinking:
“What’s that? Oh, it’s another earthquake. (I truly thought that, as though the last one wasn’t 10 years ago.) This isn’t so bad. It won’t last long. I’ve been through this before. I need it to hurry up and be over so I can finish this scan. Okay, it’s going away. No it’s not. This earthquake sure is going on a long time. It’s actually getting worse! Darn it – I don’t have time for the mess this is going to create! Wait, I don’t remember that sound. That’s a bad sound. I’m ready for this to stop now. Wow, that’s kind of loud. The shaking is still getting worse. I haven’t been through this kind of earthquake before. I don’t like this. I want this to stop now. Hmm, I’m on the second floor; that can’t be good. Hey, that’s a metal ceiling above my head. And it’s really kind of swaying. Maybe this is not the best place to be…”
I don’t know what my face looked like, but I felt wide-eyed. My emotions were wide-eyed and staring.
How can you really explain to someone else what you feel? I told you what I thought, but what I felt was something different. There came a moment when annoyance passed and concern took over. From that time until the shaking stopped, I felt quite simply like a pair of eyes. (That could walk, because I went down the stairs post-haste.) I had a similar feeling when I saw Platoon. I was absorbed. I temporarily ceased to exist outside of the experience – I was a pair of eyes in a theater.
I wasn’t necessarily scared, as in truly afraid for my well-being. I really didn’t think that anything bad was going to happen to me. I didn’t feel like the building was actually going to fall down around my head.
But I was frightened. I think it’s primarily the unknown factor, not knowing what is going to happen next. Not being a single bit in control. I didn’t think anything bad was going to happen to me, but I was acutely aware that something bad could happen to me.
But nothing did and then it was over.
After that, my perspective took a turn. Less eyes and more mind. I worried about my sister, I worried about my house and my dog. It’s funny how your mind works at times like these, because I didn’t really worry about anyone else. I don’t know why I think of different people at different times; it’s like I randomly pick and choose who to be most anxious about. I guess I was thinking about her being at home alone with a three-year-old and a baby. But I don’t know. Maybe there’s only so much room for worry – only enough for what you can reasonably deal with. I never thought to worry about Steve or the boys. And I worried about my parents only in relation to how they would be worried about us.
As for possessions, I worried about lost memories and keepsakes. I thought about broken glass and things that can’t be replaced. But driving home, I kept telling myself that things don’t matter. And I believed it.
And now, sitting here and writing this, I can see that this experience was significant for me. For the examination and (almost but never quite) understanding of self. For the confirmation of what is important to me. For the sheer exhilaration of a shared event. Simply for being something that happened to me.
Were their minor injuries? Yes. Was there damage? Yes. But it’s nothing in comparison to some of the things I have seen in my 41 and 11/12ths years. Compare this to long ago events I can not forget, like a plane down in the Potomac, the space shuttle explosion, or a bridge collapse in California. Compare it to more recent disasters in Haiti or Tuscaloosa, to the devastation caused by hurricanes and tidal waves and tsunamis.
I can’t compare.
My coworker brought up the people working at the Pentagon. We knew it had been closed – as I believe much of the government had been shut down. But she felt especially sorry for them because they would have had two kinds of fear. They would certainly share with us that unsteady fear of not knowing what was going to happen next. But some of them would have had a fear unique unto themselves – a fear of the known, of what has already happened.
It did create more work that I didn’t have time for. Among other things, I had to clean up ketchup that smashed and squirted in every direction. I had to clean up broken glass and gravy off the floor. And that was pretty icky.
But all in all I’m thankful that this was for me, in actuality, a totally inconsequential earthquake experience. That’s something I can live with.
Items of Interest:
Magnitude 5.8 – Virginia (U. S. Geological Survey)
Earthquake Rocks Virginia, DC, NY and Much of Eastern US (livescience.com)