Alaska has a lot of earthquakes. Not everyone knows this, but Anchorage, Alaska, my current hometown, was leveled in the 60’s by the largest recorded earthquake ever to hit North America. It was a 9.2 in magnitude and hit on a friday evening in 1964, Good Friday for most people. It destroyed most of Anchorage and resulted in 139 deaths, some from tsunamis that followed the earthquake, wiping out whole Alaskan villages. Had this earthquake happened anywhere else in the United States, the death toll certainly would have been higher.
Alaska is still active with earthquakes, but everyone quickly becomes used to them. I no longer even notice anything beneath a 5. There was one, however, a couple of years ago that was over a 7 that did wake me from a sound sleep. A fear overtook me as the house continued shaking, particularly because we were on a different floor from our children. I couldn’t hold them and comfort them as the house shook and I felt so powerless. The next day, there were videos and pictures of the damage done to places closer to the earthquake, but, Baruch Hashem, our home and possessions, let alone our lives, were largely untouched.
This past week reminds me of that week. Initially, when the ground moved beneath me, it was a shock. I was suddenly reminded that what I took for granted as firm and immovable can actually buckle beneath me. We take for granted most of the time that the earth beneath us will slumber quietly and support us. It’s a shock when the ground beneath my feet suddenly becomes like a liquid, waves crashing. There is a moment of disbelief as if what is happening can’t be reality. Then, there is panic, where I try to figure out what the right thing to do is, what the correct response is. Finally, there is the realization that I can’t control what is happening. I can only hang on while the house shakes and wait for it to end to go and see if there is any damage. I realize how powerless I really am and how all I can do is pray to G-d. Earthquakes are humbling reminders of the limits of human power and the infinite power of nature and G-d.
Still, even the biggest earthquakes end. When they do, there is a moment of disbelief as well, as if once the earth has shaken free then why wouldn’t it continue forever? Then, there is a time to check in with friends and family, making sure everyone is all right, that no one is hurt or needs help, and letting others know we’re ok. Finally, we look around us to see what needs to be fixed. It’s only later that we sit and think about the earthquake itself and what we might do differently to prepare for the next one. During and right after, the shaking is too present in my mind and there is the fear that an aftershock will send us shaking again or, worse, that this earthquake was just a precursor to one much more powerful. It took days after the 7+ earthquake for me to realize it really was over and to take stock of the world I now faced.
I decided I wanted to move to a house where our bedrooms were all on the same floor. I realized we really should check our emergency kit and supplies. I looked at our bookshelves for how we could secure them better. All these things helped me feel better, but the truth is that if a big earthquake like the one of 1964 came again, all of these things still wouldn’t be able to completely protect me or my family. Our survival is as much in G-d’s hands when it comes to earthquakes as it is when it comes to brown bears. It is up to Him if we will remain safe or if it is our time.
Today, when it comes to the awful events in Charlottesville, I’m past the earthquake itself. I have passed through so many strong emotions. I was afraid, angry, heartbroken, disappointed…you name the feeling from a chart of feelings and I probably felt it deeply at one part or another. I cried out and argued with G-d. When I couldn’t feel any more, when my heart was just too wounded, I would feel numb. For the most part, all this was confined to my journal, my davening, and private conversations with my husband, who, having dealt with antisemitism his entire life, was handling everything much better.
Finally, I reached the end of all of it and I was finally standing on solid ground, the aftershocks over. A new bit of news no longer held the power to shake me and neither did anyone else’s reactions to it. Today, I feel so much lighter in my heart than I did yesterday, so much freer. I began to look around me for what else I could fix besides my library project. I know I have very limited power to fix this world, but I also know it is a part of my job as a Jew (hopefully soon to be) to try to elevate and fix the parts I can.
And so, today, I begin another new project.
It’s called 101 Things in 1001 Days. I’m committing to do 101 new things, big and small over a period of 1001 days. Some are small things, like leaving an inspiring note in a book for someone to find. Others are a bit bigger, like learning a new Hebrew word every day. Some are about charity, others about davening. In all this, though, I have tried to add 101 things that will either make me a better person, a better Jew (hopefully soon), or this world just a little bit better of a place. Some involve donating my time or money to help others while others involve doing nice things for my friends, family, or even for myself. I’ve wrapped some of my conversion study goals in there as well.
It may not fix the world, but it is something that I can do to help.
As Lubavitchers believe, if we all just did just a little bit more…we could change this world and eventually bring an end to all the things that need fixing and bring in a time when the earth beneath us rests peacefully. May it be soon!