Today is the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which while centered near Santa Cruz in California, wrecked havoc in the San Francisco Bay Area. At 7.1 those of us who experienced it tend to recall it as the “Pretty Big One.”
It hit at five oh four in the afternoon. My brother was at Candlestick Park just outside of the City watching the World Series. Because of that event the Loma Prieta became the first major quake in the Lower Forty-Eight to be captured on national television. It took him hours and hours to get home.
Jan and I were living on Holy Hill in Berkeley while I was attending seminary and she was finishing her undergraduate degree at Cal. She was in our apartment listening to records (a term the younger reader may have to look up) and ironing. The room, well most of the rooms, had floor to ceiling bookshelves built in classic graduate student style, boards and concrete blocks. When the quake struck there was a jolt and one book fell off a shelf. As we were the “building managers” for the seminary building, Jan went out to make sure the earthquake valve (a device that manually shuts down the gas line into the building in a quake), but saw it had not been triggered and went back to her ironing. It wouldn’t be until much later that she would turn on the television and discover Holy Hill is an upthrust of solid granite and that all around it was a sea of devastation.
Me, I was doing my parish internship down at the First Unitarian Church in San Jose. I was standing in the outer office talking with our senior minister and the office administrator. While the church had withstood the 1906 quake that destroyed San Francisco, it wasn’t situated on the most solid ground. Still, when the first wave hit, as every one of us was a California native, we just ignored it. When it didn’t stop we all followed the procedures we’d learned in school. The administrator slid under her desk while the minister and I each stepped into door ways.
I turns out that instruction is wrong.
I personally discovered that standing there means you’re sharing space with a door. I held onto the knob as the door swayed wildly.
When it was over sixty-three people had died, and something approaching four thousand people were injured enough to be counted. The financial loses are estimated in the area of six billion dollars.
One of the big experiences of my life.
And it brought home the truth of something the rabbi Abraham Heschel once said.
God is not nice.
God is not your uncle.
God is an earthquake.
If we’re just a little lucky, the lessons that follow this noticing are endless.
They open the great way of not knowing.
And a path of a humble heart.