The day of the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989, I was working at the Exploratorium in San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. The Marina District was one of the areas hardest hit. During my lunch break that afternoon, I had been apartment hunting in the neighborhood, looking for a place closer to work. At the time the earthquake hit, I was leaving work, walking through the Exploratorium’s shop where all the exhibits were built. Heavy tools and equipment were swinging and swaying every which way. Still being new to the city, my mind did not register “earthquake” until one of my coworkers shouted the word and directed me to seek cover. If you have never felt Mother Earth rock, sway, lurch and rumble with that kind of intensity, all I can say it that it is a life changing experience. The realization that the ground we stand on, the very foundation under our feet, is not reliable, not solid, not permanent, shook me to my core.
I made my way home down 19th Ave to the Sunset District. It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. We did not yet know the magnitude of the devastation. I listened to the news reports on my car radio and learned bits and pieces as information came in. In the days to follow, I watched the news in a traumatized state of silence as the very buildings I had visited during my lunch break that day stood in flames or in crumbled heaps. The Bay Bridge, across which I’d traveled so many times, had collapsed. Rescuer workers were working against the clock to find survivors and dig them out of the rubble.
I was one of the lucky ones who was not physically hurt or worse. I did not lose a loved one or even any material possessions. All I lost was a couple of weeks of work while the Exploratorium underwent inspection and repairs. I had the benefit of working with brilliant scientists who designed interactive exhibits and gave talks on the earthquake to help the rest of us understand what had happened and why. (Those same scientists still work at the Exploratorium today.) Still, I had nightmares for months and PTSD. Loud bangs or bumps would send me into a state of panic.
Today, I remember all those who experienced far greater devastation and lost so much, including their lives. I remember and appreciate all of the rescue workers and “regular folks” who risked their own lives to help the injured, look for survivors amidst the devastation, and save people’s pets and homes. I was 26 years old in 1989. The earthquake was now more than half my life ago. I sit here today, awestruck by the human experience.
Do something that matters today. Be kind to someone, including yourself. Take nothing for granted, not even the ground under your feet. Anything can happen at any time. Be the person you always wanted to be. Live your value