Columns 2016

Earthquakes don’t panic Alaskans

There are some who will claim that this weekend’s earthquake was the result of some natural phenomena concerning plate tectonics or some such thing. There are others who will claim it is nature’s reaction to Trump and Palin being in the same space at the same time – some sort of cosmic overload. I think it was God’s way of telling us we were becoming much too complacent. Just because She’s been sending most of her disasters south recently, we shouldn’t assume She doesn’t have a few left for us.

I reacted as I usually do in an emergency. First I deny it. Then I panic. This is probably why I never did make a very good nurse. When a patient is turning blue, it is apparently considered bad form for a nurse to run around screaming, “He’s gonna die! He’s gonna die!” But that was my go-to move. And it apparently still is my go-to move. Ask my dogs. They looked to me to be strong and calm and show them how we would all survive the quake ok because I knew exactly what to do. They were sorely disappointed. I catch them looking at me now with a distinct sense that they realize I am not the person who will be the calm at the eye of the storm.

I imagine Anchorites and their surrounding neighbors will be talking about this quake for quite a while to come. It certainly re-enforces the message that all those earthquake precautions emergency responders are constantly reminding us about have validity. They aren’t just trying to scare the hoo-ha out of us. The ’64 earthquake may have happened in a different century but its lessons are still relevant. Being prepared is still the best reaction to this kind of emergency.

We can get so caught up in the insanity of the current election cycle, the hysteria over our financial future and the reality that New York City has more snow than we do, that we forget how precious it is to just wake up in the morning to a house that is solidly planted on the ground with our families safely around us. A shake this bad tends to pull us back to the reality of what really matters in life.

This is not to say that whoever is elected president doesn’t really matter or the resolution of our fiscal fiasco isn’t important. But above all else, natural disasters remind us that our families, our neighbors, our routine of life are also important. When it gets shook up, we get shook up. We were lucky that most of us escaped this quake with little to show for it aside from some fallen pictures and broken glasses. Waking up the morning after the earthquake to an intact home, to uninjured animals, to a house that still had running water and heat – that’s about all that really matters in the end. Without those in place, how would I ever have time to worry about whether Sarah Palin is actually capable of forming a coherent sentence or not.

Maybe, in the end, this earthquake will turn out to have been a good thing for many of us because it dragged us back from the precipice and put us solidly in the middle of all that’s most important to most of us. All the extraneous noise goes away as we rediscover the sublime joy that comes from knowing all is still safe in our world, which may have been shaken but has not been broken.

Here’s the bottom line about earthquakes and other natural tragedies. When they happen in Alaska, you know that help is always just a house away because we take care of each other. When one of my dogs got her head caught in my fence, I did not hesitate to run to my neighbor for help. And Clint never hesitated a moment in providing the help, getting my dog’s head out of the fence and never once questioning the viability of a dog with that level of brain power.

My heart and thoughts go out to those who suffered losses with this earthquake. But it takes more than the earth shaking under our feet to make Alaskans panic. You want to see real panic? Take away our PFD check.  Short of that, Alaskans will be just fine.