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What Lies Beneath

mood: tired | drinking: agua


It’s hard to focus on anything other than Haiti this week — a country which, until now, hasn’t claimed much of my attention at all.

But the news of the earthquake followed swiftly by scenes of such devastation and horror have shattered my ignorance.

The pancaked buildings. The dazed survivors stumbling along the ruined streets, covered in white cement dust that makes them look like zombies. And the bodies, so many lifeless bodies, piled along the roadsides or reaching futilely from the wreckage.

I’ve been reading story after story, listening to news report after news report, and am left feeling so helpless in the face of such an overwhelming catastrophe. My friend Michael sponsors a child in Haiti, a 12-year-old boy named Daniel. He doesn’t know whether Daniel survived or not, and I keep thinking, “How will he ever find out?”

There will be so many who just disappear, lost in the rubble or buried, nameless, in a mass grave. It would seem that to not know what became of your loved ones, to not see their end with your own eyes, would be so much worse than finding them dead.

It’s all very difficult to imagine, but I can’t stop myself from spinning out scenarios. My home and Haiti have one major thing in common, after all: fault lines.

The strongest earthquake I’ve felt personally was a 4.5 — a slightly unpleasant shaking sensation. But just last Sunday, two days before the 7.0 flattened Port au Prince, an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude rocked Eureka California, a town 270 miles north of San Francisco.

In 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake tumbled freeways in the Bay Area, I was oblivious, attending high school classes in the flatlands of Illinois. I heard about the 6.9 quake, of course, but it had no context. It didn’t really mean anything to me.

But now, now I live in earthquake land, as do so many people that I love. And not just people–I love the places of San Francisco. The towers and the rowhouses and the bridges and the monuments. I love all these fragile things.

And I can’t help but think about what a 7.0 would mean to me if it hit here, if it hit home.

After all, this Tsunami Evacuation Route sign stands two blocks from my house, waiting for just such an occasion.

No, we aren’t Haiti. Our homes aren’t constructed of shoddy cinder blocks. We learned from 1906, from 1989. We have built better buildings. We have reinforced them with steel. We have packed earthquake kits and stashed them in safe places. We have evacuation routes and contingency plans and bottled water.

But we are not prepared. Not really. How could you ever truly be ready?

So as my heart reaches out to the suffering people so unknown to me, I whisper, “Thank God it wasn’t here. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t mine.”

And all the while I know it could be us, so easily, next time.

-Lo, not really earthquake-proofed.

The American Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
Partners in Health
Yele Haiti