Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

On Hurricanes And Earthquakes

Napa, California, USA

August 24, 2014

"There won't be an earthquake because I say  there won't be an earthquake. And if I change my mind, you'll know because you'll hear the rumble." ... 
This essay, On Hurricanes And Earthquakes, is the companion piece to It is also the prequel to Force Of Nature.

I am indebted to Gordon Murray who inspired this conversation.

Blow by blow, a hurricane is one of nature's most powerful (and therefore most awesome) forces, easily eclipsing tornados and earthquakes in sheer strength and area of destruction. I've experienced a hurricane up close. I was visiting one of the outer islands of Fiji when a government radio broadcast told us a category three cyclone named Bob was heading our way (cyclones in any given season are named in alphabetical order). They're called "cyclones" in the south Pacific ocean, "typhoons" in the north Pacific ocean, and "hurricanes" in the Atlantic ocean. The boat which brought me there quickly left to safer harbor on the main island of Viti Levu. I wasn't on it. I had hidden myself on the island, a stowaway in reverse, until I was sure the boat was gone, preferring to stay with the local people and take my chances. I wanted to experience a hurricane intimately.

It raged for three days. It literally tore the island apart. Sand from the beaches whizzed by so fast it sliced any unprotected skin. We donned diving goggles to protect our eyes. Dislodged coconuts flying through the air, became lethal missiles. Entire grass bures  blew away like feathers in a breeze. Then just when the hurricane storm surge threatened to submerge the entire island, and I had tied myself to a forty four gallon gasoline barrel with a length of rope in case I had to fend for myself in the open ocean, it passed. I stayed on the island for another two weeks, helping to rebuild. The Fijians took it all in stride. For them, it all seemed very strangely familiar.

Photograph courtesy Napa Register
Napa County Courthouse, Napa, California, USA - 3:20am Sunday August 24, 2014
This morning's Richter  scale 6.0 earthquake in the Napa Valley where I live, was not the first earthquake I've experienced up close. It wasn't even the first earthquake greater than a 5.5 I've experienced. One of those, the 6.9 Loma Prieta  temblor of 1989 which broke the back of the Bay Bridge, was way  stronger. And it affected a much, much wider area.

Aside from sheer power, there's an obvious and essential difference between a hurricane and an earthquake: whereas a hurricane builds slowly and visibly and comes on gradually, an earthquake comes on suddenly, unseen, and without any warning. It's a shock. With a hurricane, should you choose to heed the warning, you can move out of its way (in Fiji I chose not to). With an earthquake, by the time you get the warning, it's already too late.

It woke me out of a peaceful sleep at 3:20am, coming on like a wild bouncing Mack truck with shot suspension and no muffler, having missed its freeway onramp and was instead barreling through the Cowboy Cottage. It's both terrifying and marvelous simultaneously.

It seemed endless, going on ... and on ... and on. In less than its first split second, I could tell it would hurt people, my friends, my town's folk. Finally its violence stopped. The dead quiet of the night had returned. I noticed my heart was pounding. I became aware of the crickets chirping in harmony out in the cattle pasture. They didn't seem too bothered by it.

I got up (the bed had stopped shaking) and checked around. It was becoming imminently clear the house was spared. There were no signs (miraculous?) of damage in or around the place. Electricity was off but quickly came on again. Gas was fine. Water was still on. Internet was connected. There were no cracks in the walls. A few hanging pictures were atilt - but only slightly. I adjusted them with a spirit level. All windows and door sliders moved smoothly (that's a very good sign). Noticing his flashlight beam moving outside, I called out to my neighbor, asking if he was OK. He was. The worst for him was one of his pets bolted in fright, and was nowhere to be found. In the distance, we heard sirens. Back inside, I found some bottles fallen in my kitchen cabinet. None had broken. I stood them up, then went back to sleep.

Predicament? Or Possibility? Choose.

Rebuilding after a hurricane or after an earthquake isn't easy. Really  it isn't. It isn't easy financially. It isn't easy emotionally: hurricanes and earthquakes strike at the very heart of what it is to survive. And if you do think it's easy, I'd like you to travel with me back in time to view a certain Fijian island, or maybe you and I can take a walk through downtown Napa California or through downtown Christchurch New Zealand, both very much in the present. I think what you see will change your mind.

But listen: the hardest thing to do after a hurricane or after an earthquake (if not during  a hurricane or during an earthquake) isn't rebuilding. No it's not. The hardest thing to do after a hurricane or after an earthquake is differentiating between what happened  and the story about what happened. The story about what happened is all added material: yours, mine, ours, the media's. It's the story about what happened which keeps us all trapped in the predicament. And here's the thing: the story about what happened isn't real  (Gee! I hope you get that). It's the terse facts of what happened which are all that's real. And watch: the facts are already in the past.

Empowering questions to ask (after a hurricane or after an earthquake, to be sure, but empowering questions to ask anytime, actually) are: "What now?", "What's next?", "What's possible?", and "Where to go from here?". Notice how these empowering questions are literally drowned out  by the story about what happened. And if you tell the truth about it, you'll see it's our natural tendency  as human beings to allow inventing possibility to be drowned out by the story about what happened.

Speaking with total compassion for those who lose property (and maybe life and loved ones) in a hurricane or in an earthquake: that particular view of things, can be extremely hard to get. What makes it especially hard to get, is the belief that hurricanes and earthquakes give us no choice. But there's always choice. There's always possibility. There's always the future space  in which the event occurs, as distinct from the event itself. Just don't look to the event in and of itself, for choice. There's never any choice there. Just don't look to the event in and of itself, for possibility. There's never any possibility there. It's only we human beings who can declare a choice from nothing  when there seems to be no choice. It's only we human beings who can invent possibility from nothing when there seems to be no possibility.

In this regard, you could say both hurricanes and earthquakes are riveting teachers: you could say they make us look for choices, and you could say they make us look for possibilities, and you could say they make us look for them in the places in which we, wanting not to leave our comfort zones, wouldn't necessarily want to look.

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