Recently while watching video clips of recent natural disasters, I felt something stirring in me. Something deeper, almost forgotten. Even bursting into tears, as if waking from a dream or snapping out of a spell. The feeling reminding me more of how I used to experience the world as a child.
A feeling that I also experienced while standing in the middle of an office building as it shook during a 6.8 earthquake I was in back in 2001. As the world around me slowed down, I felt myself become more conscious and insulated by a silent bubble, even though the crashing and banging of the quake was deafening. I looked around me, taking in what was happening. My thoughts running through me slowly like I was trying to run underwater.
“An earthquake“, I thought. “This is what it’s like to be in an earthquake.” I remembered the training from earthquake drills and knew that I was supposed to get under my desk. So I turned to do so, but I saw the desk warping up and down, looking like it might break in half. Also my computer monitor was hopping assertively and aggressively across the desk like a pissed off bunny and I thought, “Fuck that.” and ran to the doorway frame which was also supposed to be a good place to go during a quake.
Two of my coworkers had the same thought, so there were three of us standing there, finding our own personal piece of the door frame to cling to. But then I remembered that that particular doorway was not load bearing and therefore not really all that safe. By that time, parts of the ceiling plaster had begun to fall and a collective decision was made to make a run for it. The very thing the drills had said not to do, but I was damned if I was going to stand there and get buried alive. At least moving towards the exit gave me a fighting chance of escaping.
That was my outward fight or flight response, but simultaneously there were plenty of still moments where deeper existential feelings came through.
“Oh wow. This is intense. How long is this going to go on. It already feels like forever. What if this is just the beginning and it gets stronger? Omg. I can’t imagine being in a quake like this in a place like China or India where the infrastructure isn’t as strong as here. Omg. For some people, this is what their last moments look like. This could be my last moments. I wonder if it hurts or if it’s over in an instant.”
The worst of all for me was being so far away from my son, who was 5 at the time and just down the road at a daycare. My mom instinct kicked in so hard to protect him that I thought I was going to burn from the inside out and started crying because there was nothing I could do about it in the moment. One of the two coworkers standing with me in the door frame yelled out, “My daughter!” which made me cry harder because at least I wasn’t alone in my feelings of being a scared mom and feeling helpless about the situation. It was comforting in its own way.
We did all get out safe. Our kids were all safe. Everything was okay, but altered.
This wasn’t the first time I was in a natural disaster, or even the first time I thought it could be the end for me. I’ve been in multiple hurricanes and even tornadoes. The worst one of all was during a tornado warning (meaning funnel clouds had been spotted, otherwise it’s a tornado watch) that happened back when I worked for a supercenter department store.
We had gathered all of the customers to the center of the store as soon as they issued the warning, because it was the clothing section and the safest place to be. From where I stood, I could see out the front doors of the building. The sky started to take on a strange dark green color and people started to abandon their cars to run.
At first they started to run towards the supercenter for shelter, but then I saw them all stop as they looked up in horror, and then hauled ass in the opposite direction. The noise of the storm got louder and Louder and LOUDER. The customers went from giving us attitude and complaining, to silence, and then finally came a moment when none of us could deny that we were in big trouble and complete strangers grasped hands and each other and began falling to their knees, praying, wailing, crying.
The noise. I can’t begin to describe the noise. It was like a hundred freight trains trying to come through the ceiling of the building. It drowned out all of the screaming and yelling. It drowns out all of your own thoughts and gets under your skin until it feels like the tornado is happening inside of you.
I remember starting to buckle myself, thinking “please . . . please don’t let this be it. Please don’t let this be where and when I die. Not in a supercenter.” But also, at that time, my son was just a baby and I didn’t want him to have to grow up without his mom. I didn’t want to leave him alone in the world.
And then, just as it seemed that the roof was about to give, the sound began to decrease and then leave. We all just stood their, stunned at what had just happened. Later we found out from eye-witnesses that THREE funnel clouds had started to descend on top of the store. Three tornadoes. But they never fully touched down, they retracted and moved in the nick of time, leaving us completely physically unharmed.
But forever changed. Which brings me back to now and all that is going on in the world. In the moments in my life when I was brought face to face with death, never ever were my thoughts about how successful I had been at work or how much money I had. Or about being offended by a person calling a transgender person a “he” instead of a “she”. Or about people being gay, democrat or republican, Pakistani or Indian. Or about illegal aliens. Climate change. Taxes. Corporate America or the corrupt banking systems.
No. Nothing that the world is currently focused on and bitching about, entered my mind. Only how much I love both the people in my life as well as the people in the world. Also, how much of my life I have wasted on stupid, stupid things that don’t really mean anything at all.
So I look at the level of disaster that is playing out all over the globe, and then I look at what everyone is focused on and bitching about and . . . well, it’s really upsetting, you know? We’re better than this.
Blaming others, calling each other names, blowing each other up . . . it’s all an exercise in futility. It’s all a waste of time and resources. Does it really matter at this point why it’s all happening? Do we really have any control over it? Does it really matter who is right or wrong? Or is it time to start accepting that it’s happening and drop the bullshit? Maybe show a little bit of compassion once in a goddamn while and grow the fuck up.
I think if there’s one common ground between us, it’s that we see that things have headed south in a big way. It’s happening. Why are we not able to have real discussions out loud about what IS happening all around us, and as beings that are caring and cared for? We aren’t all going to survive what is coming. The focus shouldn’t be solely on survival. We should also be making right the things we are able to make right. We should come to peace with our own mortality so that we can focus on what ACTUALLY needs to be happening right now and not the mayhem that is currently playing out.
We do not control life or death. Any control is an illusion. We cannot and will not save everyone because it is not up to us. It is not our decision. If everyone could just shut the fuck up for two seconds and realize this, maybe we could all start moving towards coming to terms, as a collective, with what is happening and stop all this goddamn useless fighting and complaining like a bunch of spoiled children.
But even if not, even if that isn’t possible because everyone is too wrapped up in the drama, it’s okay. It’s okay because ultimately nobody escapes it. Whether it’s your own time or someone you love, nobody escapes having to face moments of truth. The only choice or control you really have over something like death, is whether you face the reality of it before it comes for you or you let it take you kicking and screaming against your will. One leads to peace, while the other is torture. Heaven. Or. Hell. Your choice.