When you die and wake up in heaven, so the story goes, you will experience three shocks: first, the shock of discovering that you actually made it to heaven. Second, the shock of looking around and seeing who else is there. And, third — the most amusing to consider — the shock of realizing who is NOT there.
Tuesday’s mid-Atlantic earthquake rolled through with a big wave of interesting shocks and aftershocks.
First, we were shocked — SHOCKED! — that an earthquake of that size could happen here! Californians may laugh at our east coast wimpishness, but the last time a 5.8 temblor struck Virginia, Sister Mary Euphrasia Taylor was scouting locations for Trinity — yes, the last earthquake of any size in this region was 1897, the year of Trinity’s founding (a seismic event, to be sure!!). So, it’s not surprising that the current generation found the rumbling experience strange and disturbing.
I was in a meeting in Main Hall and at first I thought the rumbles were just a result of heavy traffic outside. Then the chandelier seemed to jump and I knew it was more than a truck!
Second, we were strangely relieved — after realizing that the big shake was an earthquake, we nervously laughed and admitted the thought that flashed through many minds at the same moment: at first we thought it was another act of terrorism. Like others, I certainly had a fleeting thought of a bomb somewhere downtown. We were so happy to know that this show of force was simply Mother Nature shifting her tectonic plates! No bad guys were involved. Even better, nobody got hurt. People gathered by the thousands on lawns and public squares all over town, basking in afternoon sunshine while trying to make calls on cell phones that did not work. Twitter was ablaze, roads were jammed, and everyone had tales to tell that were tinged with anxiety but absent the horror of real disasters.
Third, for a few brief moments, we escaped the relentless rumbles of bad news that keep flashing across our screens — war, recession, violence, Congressional gridlock, presidential candidates, Redskins dramas. On the front page of the Washington Post, the earthquake was bigger news than the liberation of Tripoli.
Soon enough, we are back to reality. As my eyes roved below-the-fold on yesterday’s paper, I was stunned to read Sally Jenkins’ moving story on Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of the champion Tennessee women’s basketball team, recently diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s. Summitt is the winningest coach, male or female, in all of collegiate sports. She is only 59. At a time when scandals plague NCAA Division I men’s teams at big state universities (Miami, Ohio, e.g.), Summitt stands tall as a huge exemplar of the best values in elite university sports. Good for her for taking her story public, and for persisting as coach as long as she is able! What a great inspiration!
Today’s news also brings the considerable aftershock — though not really a surprise — of Steve Jobs’ decision to resign from the helm of Apple. Jobs has been ill for many years, but like Pat Summitt, he has played through his pain, not letting pancreatic cancer or a liver transplant stop him from building the world’s most successful and valuable company.
Nature has a way of reminding us, constantly, that no matter how smart or inventive or competitive or persistent we humans might be, some things are well beyond our control. The earth rumbles, illness comes upon us, life changes. Our many faith traditions teach us that the power of nature reveals God’s plans for his creation.
We’re just hoping right now that Hurricane Irene does not feel the need to teach us one more lesson on the power of nature — we get it!!