Something elemental about an earthquake. I was standing in a roomful of middle schoolers as they prepared to do a study skills assignment in a workshop for new students. You hear it almost before you feel it. A rushing noise. A rattle of the windows that does not stop. Of course, in a school preparing for the start of the year, you think, who’s moving what upstairs to make such a racket? Then you think, someone on the roof with a machine? And then you realize you are riding a wave that rolls right across the room as now more than windows shake. The cinderblock walls rattle, and the floor rolls. And then, because you live in the DC area, you think, explosion? Finally,  though, you realize the truth: earthquake. And you think how odd, you’re not in California.

And then you begin to think about the planet and tectonic plates and fault lines, and you stand in awe of such an elemental power that makes you once again realize the smallness of your place in the universe.

Then, of course, it all stops, and you have to deal with the squeals of frightened teenagers. And so you are pulled back into teacher mode as you organize and quiet them and explain and reassure and get everyone to pack up and check news reports. No one hurt. No discernible damage. Only 5.8 on the Richter Scale. Back to business. Plan for tomorrow’s lesson, xerox some handouts. Drive home.

But it waits there for you at the end of the day–that feeling of the elemental, that feeling of smallness. And the memory of what it felt like to surf the earth for just a moment.


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