Pleased and secure with a new set of tires, he had gone cruising along Santa Cruz Avenue on his way to the local liquor store. About a block before getting there, the car was suddenly going nowhere. Bam! All 4 tires went flat at the same time. Curtis started in cursing the pavement, the dealership that had just sold him the tires, and anything else he could think of to blame.
He was so upset that it took him a few seconds to realize that the tires may have been flattened, but he was moving abruptly up and down. Then, Curtis noticed a guy on the sidewalk who was clutching a traffic light post and having a hard time standing up. Was he drunk? It was when their eyes locked onto each other, but they were still in motion, that the realization came to both of them. This Is A Major Earth Quake! Curtis instantly forgave the car tire store as he bounced along with the force of the quaking Earth.
Once the aftershocks had diminished in intensity, the tires were resilient enough for Curtis to continue to his destination, The Pacific Wine and Liquor store. He could really use a beer now! That was not to be, though. The closer he got to the store, the more he smelled the strange stench of hundreds of bottles all broken, the contents merging together to form a reddish brown syrup of liquid oozing out underneath the doorway. There was no question of going inside. Besides, what mattered the most now was to hurry back home and see how we had fared. He arrived in time for another aftershock.
Curtis checked that we were alright; at least enough not to need medical care. Together, we started to survey the mess left by the quake. We were stunned. Practically the only dishes left intact were in the dishwasher. Fortunately, I had followed my intuition to pack up our collection of fine china and some valuable keepsakes about a month earlier. A quick check revealed that the bubble wrap had protected them perfectly well.
Then we looked over the living room. Only 4 days before, we had turned down the travertine marble tables, due to my hunch that they weren’t in an acceptable condition. Just think of what would have happened to them in this upheaval! The marble set would have toppled over and been smashed to pieces on the hard floor tiles. Paying attention to my intuition had really paid off.
Ruth and Jeanine - 1998
Next, stepping carefully, I tiptoed down the hallway to my office, only to find a total wreck. My wooden, make-shift desk had been neatly covered with bills to write and letters to answer. I found it crashed to the floor under the weight of a nearby filing cabinet which had spilled out several years’ worth of teaching materials into the center of the room. The flimsy bookshelf beneath the window had turned over, and my impressive book collection was thrown on top of the desk and filing drawer contents. There was not one iota of space that was untouched. In this state of confusion, I barely knew how or where to start cleaning up. Obviously, my life was not quite as “together” as I had imagined.
At least, my peaceful plan to meditate and read had put me in a stronger “place” than would have been the case otherwise. My quieted mind helped me deal with the immediate aftermath of the quake, and the seismic activity that followed. Naturally, there was no possibility of going to the yoga class.
I did have a problem with an intense nausea that I had never, ever felt before. I understood that noxious gasses are released into the air from the ruptures in the Earth. My way of recovering from this was to work with these energies to clear myself out. I went outside and stepped barefooted onto some large river rocks in the front yard. I knew that energy flows from left to right through the body.
First, I allowed it to travel from my left foot, all the way up my leg and on through my torso and head. Then, the energy flowed down my right side and on out of my right foot, into the stones and into the ground where it could be recycled. The stone under my right foot became burning hot, as I let the toxins wash out of my body in this manner. The nausea subsided significantly by my having made peace with the Earth.
Exhilarated and relieved to have made it through the quake, everyone on our street of 16 homes turned out to check on one another. That started an impromptu home tour. We opened up our home as well. Each neighbor was invited in to be amazed by the damage, but also astonished by what remained intact. One couple had their entire collection of rare European tarot cards emptied out onto the floor while their huge, priceless marble statue of a horse remained unmoved. We would hear of many more absurdities in the days and weeks to follow.
What counted right then was that we were all okay. Our power was out after another swarm of after shocks, but more importantly, no one was seriously injured, and no house needed the gas shut off. We found ourselves laughing giddily at each household’s losses. Stemware was shattered, crystal chandeliers were destroyed, and wooden ceilings were split in the corners; yet this was such a trifle compared to what could have been. For a little while, we were carefree about it all. Champagne flowed into plastic cups, and we celebrated our good fortune together.
By the time Curtis and I, along with our Golden Retriever, made it back home from the neighborhood party, we found that we had instant company. A friend whose home was up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, had stopped at our place after learning that she was not allowed to go up to any of the damaged roads, so close to the epicenter of the quake. That was about the time that the electricity was restored on our street, not a moment too soon before the sobering darkness of that October night.
Stories and information started pouring in to the TV stations. Curtis and I stood in front of our television, mesmerized by the pictures of what nature could do. Comments from around the world started to be reported. It seemed that most people thought of it as the San Francisco quake, since they had been primed to watch the World Series going on right then. Of course, the game was abandoned, and did not resume until several days later.
Meanwhile, we served our mountain friend a light dinner after which she decided she had experienced enough excitement. She “crashed” in our guest room, and ended up staying for a week. Finally, she heard that the roads were considered safe enough to travel up to the mountain slide areas so that she and her neighbors could inspect their homes. Only residents were allowed up there. Their news was not as joyful as ours.
That first night, Curtis and I were too jittery to think about going to bed. We knew that our families would want to know that we had come through alive. We tried every few minutes to call, but the lines were jammed. We kept the TV going, and of course, each station had news only of the devastating quake. It took several repetitions of each horrific scene to have the impact of the quake begin to sink in. We stared in disbelief.
One ironic story that was played on the TV over and over was that of a young graduate student who had been practicing a speech in front of her video camera at home. Her topic was Earthquake Preparedness. She advised her audience that at the first hint of a tremor, one should duck under a protective structure.
“Like right now!” she gasped, and disappeared from the camera’s view.
By that time, my light-hearted spirit was long gone. I needed something to do with my adrenalin rush, and the thing to do was the laundry. After all, I told myself, with our unexpected company, we needed plenty of freshly washed bath towels, sheets, kitchen cloths, and also rags for clean-up. In times of such uncertainty, it helped to do something definite where I could count on clear results. The laundry was something I could depend on as a mindfulness meditation. Besides, I had to get back to some sense of order.
After midnight, Curtis did go on to bed, but I was too worked up for that. Throughout the night, I folded loads of cleaned, cozy, dry towels and linens as the TV coverage of the disaster continued. Plus, I swept up broken glass, and kept on trying to reach my mother in Texas and Curtis’ mother in Maryland.
Julia and Jeanine at the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee the first week-end in October, 1989.
In the afternoon of the next day, the phone actually rang. Curtis and I both rushed to grab the handset. Curtis answered. A headhunter in Florida was calling to see if Curtis was interested in a job there. No. The recruiter acted like he hadn’t heard a thing about the earthquake. It was surreal. At least, that let us know the phone lines were clear again. I called Mom hurriedly. She was audibly relieved, although she sounded like she was out of breath.
She exclaimed, “I just knew you had to be okay, but all I could do was clean one load of laundry after another! I stayed up all night.”
I laughed and told her what I had been up to at the same time. How we both had that much laundry piled up to do, I don’t know. Nevertheless, we were in sync with each other as only a mother and daughter could be. In a certain sense, we had maintained our communication the whole time.
This event would soon be known as The Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 at 5:04 pm on October 17th. It was the longest 15 seconds we had ever known. The epicenter was just a few miles from our home. At first, it was considered to be a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale. Later, it was determined that it was actually a 7.1 quake. The Earth shook from the south of us in Gilroy and Hollister, to the west of us in Soquel and Santa Cruz, and all the way up the peninsula to north of San Francisco. The upper deck of the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco cracked and sent cars sailing off to hit the bottom deck. The 2nd deck of the 880 freeway fell and crushed the drivers below. Many homes were leveled. Others slid off mountain sides. The dwellings in the Marina District of San Francisco burned, and businesses lost even the foundations of their buildings. Considering these widespread conditions, it seemed miraculous that only 62 people died.
In the months that followed, I heard many accounts from friends who had been in the right place at exactly the right moment to live through the cataclysm. Several weeks after the quake, the harrowing Highway 17 route from the coast up and over to the mountain town of Los Gatos re-opened. Classes resumed, and our yoga teacher had one such story to tell.
Ruth and George B. lived in the forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains only about 4 miles from the epicenter. He had been engaged in San Francisco that Tuesday, in his work as a composer and orchestral conductor. She had the beginning and the intermediate-to-advanced yoga classes to teach at the Los Gatos Community Education Center that evening.
Our petite, 73 year old teacher had stepped into the garage, ready for her drive down narrow, winding roads, but then she turned right around and stepped back inside the kitchen. An inner voice reminded her of an article she wanted to share with the classes, so she headed to her office to find it. That was the moment the quake started. A half a second made all the difference. If she hadn’t listened within, she would have been crushed between the washing machine and the dryer, located on either side of the doorway to the garage.
The power went off immediately. Our dear teacher cleaned up what she could before sundown, but soon had only the blackness of the night and her meditations to keep her company. There were no mountain forest neighbors who made it over to check on her. Since the phone lines were flooded, and the roads inaccessible, she had only telepathy to stay connected with her husband. She was strong in Spirit.
In keeping with her yoga philosophy, Ruth surrendered to that night while in the full lotus position on the cold kitchen floor. She could not move until dawn, as the space was still covered with broken glass, liquids, beans, rice, and everything else that shot out from the cupboards. Furthermore, she had to sit with the knowledge that she had breast cancer. She had just come home from the doctor appointment and had not had a chance to reveal the heart-wrenching news to anyone. It wasn’t until the following night that she and her husband George were reunited.
Years later, I am still grateful for having followed my intuition, back in October of 1989. Plus, my practice of meditation and yoga had put me in a stable state of being that helped me deal with the strong quake and its aftermath all those years ago. What a blessing to receive such inner guidance from Spirit!
(By the way, the marble furniture that we had to turn down remained intact, such as it was. The San Jose furniture warehouse was located in a pocket of land that was hardly affected at all.)
Dedicated to 2 courageous women: my loving mother Julia, and our unforgettable Ruth who went Beyond the Beyond 10 years after the quake.
C.R. 7/23/2006. Revised 10/17/2009. Edited 9/6/2014, 25 years later. Jeanine K. B.
Of The Light Within, a division of <Communications Universelles>.
(Many thanks, Jeanine, for your dramatic personal account, based on the dual geological and human events of October 17, 1989. We appreciate too the good photo illustrations for your piece. Larry)