An earthquake challenges my understanding of reality

This is new to me, the earth swaying. There is no underground subway to blame for the foreignness beneath me. A sensation I’ve evaded until now finally caught me asleep and on a top floor. I tremble at the memory, at the tapping of my air freshener bottle in my closet, dangling from a coat hanger and moving in a disturbingly natural way.

From a state of unconsciousness to complete lucidity in three seconds, I sped to the realization that an earthquake challenges what I know to be true about my reality. A building trembling and swaying, a bathroom vibrating bottles off the counter, a need to brace myself between two beds...and none of this occurring on a ship, as I’ve experienced before. I was not at sea; I was very much on land.

Staring at the wall during an earthquake in Hiroshima, Japan
Staring at the wall during an earthquake in Hiroshima, Japan

I was so scared. Staring at a point on the wall where the wall radio can be adjusted, I didn’t know whether to expect falling dry wall or nightstands punching me in the arm…or nothing more than a momentary sensation of land pretending to be water. I don’t remember any other sounds than the tapping of the air freshener, tapping that lingered seemingly beyond the feathered end of the motion. I pulled the dangling bottle to the right, away from the wall, stopping the sound that was striking me like dinosaur footsteps in Jurassic Park. With the new silence, I stood in confusion and decided to sit by the door and text my brother.

“Is everyone okay?” I missed the mad dash down the fire escape from the top floor, one I assume I didn’t hear due to tunnel focus on closet tapping. “We are outside, the only ones.” Some remained quiet. Others made what seemed like the smart but cold option. I squeegeed two tears from my wide-open eyes with one hand while the other steadied my descent down the stairs.

I wasn’t ready to have motivational perspective on this event that still felt present and stunning. I wanted to be squeezed dry of my adrenaline and cradled on soft ground. It was a pregnant moment, an elephant gestation awaiting whatever additional shifts our plates were building up to, but part 2 and beyond were assumed minuscule and capable of sleeping through. I wasn’t ready to accept that period; it felt like a comma in disguise.

Fabric freshener tapping in my closet during an earthquake in Hiroshima, Japan
Fabric freshener tapping in my closet during an earthquake in Hiroshima, Japan

People who live on fault lines experience this uncertainty and accept this threat continuously. I feel like a weakling for finding a fallen bottle terrifying, a tapping in my closet paradigm-shifting. Layering this sense of feebleness on top of potential loss, in addition to atrocities on humanity, combined with ever-present disappointment in imperfection, this mass could surely choke me with a bottleneck of thought, a tsunami of helplessness isolated from most supports.

Thankfully all these things I’m aware of needing to process are also humbling in the act of processing. Weakness can and will dissolve into acceptance of being helpless and simplify into purpose so clear and true.

I don’t hug these things; I continue to fear them. I hold them at arms length for their severity, their magnitude. I can feel my eyebrows straining to meet without permission or announcement. They do not feel good and are greeted with resistance, both visible and felt in spirit.

Shocked and still shaking, I have just begun the process of processing. I don’t know to what extent that process can and should be vocalized. Where do I feel comfortable and supported drawing the line between justifiable feelings and a loss in perspective? I hope this process involves a softening of the eyebrows, the shoulder blades, and the eyelids at night with every vibration of the phone on the sheets.

Earthquake near Hiroshima, Japan
Earthquake near Hiroshima, Japan