No, that's not the latest George Bush unpopularity rating, it's the chance we have, here in Southern California, of a major 6.7 earthquake between this very moment and 2038., according to the U.S. Geological Survey, USC's Southern California Earthquake Center AND the State Geological Survey. Oh, and a 37 percent chance of a huge, 7.5 event. By 2038, of course, the chances of my still being around are a good deal slimmer. If that should happen, though, I hope it's without being totally gaga or physically debilitated.
Still, I don't relish the prospect of another massive shrug of Mother Earth's shoulders. The first big one I felt was back in 1971. Ellie and I were living on the same hill, around the corner from where we are now. The quake struck early morning, and we won't easily forget the big, cheesy moon dripping down over the Griffith Park Observatory, nor the eerie green flashes throughout Hollywood and beyond as the electrical transformers blew. We had an old friend staying with us at the time, a Korea vet, and he woke in a panic, thinking he was back in combat.
The second big one came in 1993, I think, in Northridge, to the northwest from where we live. For some reason, the shock waves traveled in our direction, and we found ourselves, downstairs, ankle deep in glass and pottery shards from our collection of purple glass and American art pottery. We had big cracks in the walls of our substantial old house, too, and one injury: our new puppy, who normally slept on the back porch, came dashing through the shards and rushing upstairs with bleeding feet.
I recall having pretty much enjoyed the first jolt. It was a novelty. I was young, European. It felt exotic, somehow, very Californian. And of course I was still invulnerable. The second time around, I was scared. Nowadays, I confess, I never go to sleep without thinking about earthquakes. Not once. I'm not sure why, but they're always on my mind. Perhaps I was a little traumatized by the Northridge quake. Those who follow these meanderings in The Buddha Diaries will know that the death I fear the most is being buried alive under tons of rubble. That might have something to do with it.
Still, better to be Buddhist about it, right? Practice a little equanimity. Breathe. Let go of the fear.