Tuesday, January 19, 2010


About a week and a half ago I was sitting at my desk at home and felt the brief jolt of a 4.2 earthquake. I learned later that the quake originated about 40 miles from Half Moon Bay, just east of Milpitas.

After it passed, I said out loud, to myself, as if to return to reality, "That was an earthquake." I felt dizzy, even nauseous—not from the shaking, but from what I experienced, at an existential level, as an impossibility. The earth had moved. I could feel my organism's bewilderment. My body didn't care what I knew intellectually; it merely knew that the impossible had happened.

So of course we can't imagine Haiti.

The facts don't help: at least 200,000 dead—the equivalent of 6,000,000 dead Americans, had the catastrophe happened here and matched Haiti's scale. 1,500,000 homeless—the equivalent of 45,000,000 Americans losing their homes in a single catastrophic event. In effect, we've witnessed the end of a nation: its capital wiped out, the State, already fragile, in total collapse, the population decimated (a disproportionate number of the dead will be children), the infrastructure largely destroyed.

Seeing the images from Haiti, I remembered my reaction to the little tremor days before: Earthquakes cannot be.

And yet they are. If we're lucky, we resume. Or, perhaps more accurately, begin again.

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