Need A Shake Up?

Need a Shake-Up?

by Susan Fiedler

Here in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia we don’t expect earthquakes.  Of course, we have them, but infrequently. When I went to college in southern California, earthquakes were the norm. I had only been there a couple of months in my freshman year when I experienced my first quake. I was in the student dining hall when it hit. What a racket it caused:  rattling tables and chairs, students crying out, the brittle sound of decorative ceramic tiles breaking. Those sounds were almost more startling than the sensation of the earth rolling under us.

In contrast, my second earthquake experience was quiet. A group of us had gone camping in the hills around Pasadena. Up there it could get quite chilly. I woke in the morning in my cozy sleeping bag, wondering how long I could put off running to the bathroom, when the earth rolled again. The only sound I remember was the gentle clatter of a few pebbles rolling down a nearby gully. Upon returning to campus we, of course, learned that this earthquake, too, had been noisy around buildings and furnishings.

Neither of those quakes was very impressive.  I doubt either one reached 5.0 on the Richter scale.  And none of us really commented on them after a day or two. But they remained fresh on our minds. So, it’s not surprising that when I got up a little before six on the morning of February 9, 1971, that I really did think, “Man, it’s gonna take an earthquake to wake me up this morning.” Then, just a few minutes later the ground began to move.

I shrugged my shoulders and took a few steps toward my desk.  It was supposed to stop now.  But the ground continued to shake, the furniture rattled, and a rumbling, low in pitch but ever increasing in volume, began to overtake all of the other sounds.

The floor of my second floor student dorm rolled as though it were being rocked in the swells of a passing boat’s wake, until right at the end of the quake the movement changed from a roll to a vertical chunk, chunk, chunk—and everything got quiet.

We had experienced a quake of about 6.1 intensity on the Richter scale—at least ten times as powerful as each of the previous two quakes.  Some buildings and highway overpasses collapsed in the northern San Fernando Valley, and about sixty people lost their lives.

Classes were cancelled for the day so they could inspect the buildings, so I went to my campus job at the Fine Arts Library. The shelves had been mounted all along a wall with expanding bolts, supposedly strong enough to hold until the wall crumbled, but on the contrary, all of the bolts except two popped free off the wall. Most books remained on the shelves. Only the rare books fell off.

Meanwhile, our high falutin’ record players that had been mounted on foam to protect the records from bouncing needles had the arms bounced all over the place with some record players balanced precariously caddy-corner half on and half off the foam.

The library had received a bequest of sheet music and I was tasked with sorting it. All day long I was on my knees in a second-floor practice room with that music.  This building was modern and built to withstand earthquakes by flexing and rocking on its foundation.  We had numerous after-shocks that day, but I was in a position to feel the floor continually shaking as shocks came and went—rising and falling in intensity, but never actually stopping all day.

One of our professors was out of town for the quake.  By the next time we had class most of the aftershocks had settled down.  The night before, another hit.  It woke me up. I estimated it at about a 4.9 and rolled over to go back to sleep. In class the next morning, we felt another aftershock hit. You feel a quake more quickly when you’re seated, so a murmur passed through the crowd.

He was about to fuss at us for making noise when two of the long, rectangular crystals in the chandelier above began pinging. The noise started slowly then sped up and grew louder before it slowed down and faded as the quake passed.

Whereupon our professor told us that when the quake hit the night before, he had gotten his family to stand under the doorway arch. We all laughed because it was so much gentler than the big one we’d felt. That just goes to show how our experience, our surroundings, and even our expectations can affect our perceptions.

We expected the occasional earthquake there and ignored the ones that were what we expected. I wonder what our reactions would have been if we had realized they were actually fore-shocks to a much bigger quake that was coming? Perhaps now some seismologists would have recognized the danger, but back then there was no sensation of impending calamity. We all knew “the big one” would eventually hit, but most mornings we didn’t even think about it. Even when we know disaster is coming, it’s really difficult to know if we’re experiencing aftershocks from the last big one or fore-shocks for the next.

In Matthew 24 Yeshua/Jesus tells His disciples how to tell the end is soon. Turns out, it’s not wars, or famines, or even earthquakes. Verse 14 lets us know the crucial sign of the times. “Then the message of the gospel will be preached all over the world. And then the end will come!” (MSG)

Individually we must realize the end can come at any moment. On Feb. 9, 1971, sixty people saw their end in that earthquake. How soon will it be for the rest of us?

Verse 42: “Be vigilant just like that.  You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”  (MSG)

And, most importantly, regardless of our perception of how close we are to “The End”, are we aware of what’s really important? Are we busy doing our Father’s business?

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