Forces of Nature

My bed was shaking, but I wasn’t moving. As I opened my eyes, I thought “there’s someone here.” Looking around, I noticed that, in fact, I was alone, but something else was happening: the walls were moving, too. Everything in my room was vibrating, and I wasn’t responsible for it.

It was a rolling-type of shaking, the kind that starts slowly and then grows in strength. I was scared… More scared than I’ve been in an incredibly long time. Being asleep didn’t help to understand what was going on until after it ended. My first earthquake caught me in the comforts of dreamland, but left me in shock.

It was a magnitude of 6.0, and the epicenter was an hour and a half north of San Francisco, which means I only experienced roughly 10 seconds of force. Simply thinking about the fact that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake is ten-times the force of what I lived is absolutely mind-blowing. I would like to never live that again (God, you can count that as a prayer).

In 2010, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile. To put it into perspective: it was so powerful that the entire city of Buenos Aires, which is 840 miles (1,350 km) away, moved 1.5 inches (4 cm) to the west, and the Earth’s figure axis moved by 3.15 in (8 cm). It may have also shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds.

We should all let that sink in for a bit.

Hours later, after barely any sleep, I was off to my first surfing experience. It was addictive, to the point where it’s now something I’d like to do almost every weekend if I can. Being in the water feels right; so does learning a sport I have always wanted to practice, yet never had the opportunity due to lack of accessibility.

Despite having to focus on multiple things at once –the incoming waves, paddling correctly, my body’s position on the board, not chopping someone’s head off due to a rookie mistake, and, most importantly, not drowning—there were times while I was sitting on the board that I caught myself reflecting on the contrast between the two experiences I was having that day.

There I was in front of another force of nature: the ocean. Just as uncontrollable as an earthquake, although easier to adapt to, in a way. I felt so small, as I know we’ve all felt numerous times in our lives. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s usually a very humbling feeling.

The same thing happened when I went sky diving a month ago. Gravity is real people, more real than we ever feel until we freely decide to jump out of a plane, because adrenaline. Staring down at the very-quickly-approaching Earth makes you wonder, and not only about whether your parachute will open.

These experiences help us reflect and go a little deeper into ourselves, because what else can you do in a moment during which you cannot control anything that is happening around you? My recent personal reflections spurred by these events have been along the lines of: why are we so keen on wasting time with objects, feelings, and people that –ahem—waste our time?

I started watching the newest version of Cosmos (full disclosure: I’ve seen the original and am as big a nerd with this one as I was with Carl Sagan’s; I strongly urge you to watch them), and here is Neil deGrasse Tyson commenting on the community of scientists that consistently question everything in an attempt to get to know and understand the universe we live in, as well as the place we hold in it, and I cannot seem to understand how more people aren’t into that sort of awesome thing than, say, blowing up airplanes out of the sky or gunning down unarmed teenagers due to race.

Don’t worry, I peg myself as an idealist, so no need for you to accuse me of it, but still I hope for the day when education is our only weapon, and when we can humbly accept forces of nature beyond our control and understand that we are not the center of the universe, which means we should probably cut out some of the crap we continue to get ourselves into because not a single one of us is exempt from the laws of time and nature and all the happy/unhappy consequences that come along with them.

Therefore, with or without your permission, I will dare to ask: when was it that you last stopped to admire the majesty around you? On what are you still wasting your precious time?


Photo: Chad Hamre / Pacifica, California, USA

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