POEM, “Fault Line”
California is so many things, but it’s hard to think about California without thinking of earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault and its handiwork is plainly visible. Research has shown that the Southern segment, which stretches from Monterey all the way down to the Salton Sea, is capable of a Richter scale 8.1 earthquake. An earthquake of that size on the Southern segment (which, at its closest, is 40 miles away from Los Angeles) would kill thousands of people in Los Angeles, San Bernandino, Riverside, and other areas, and cause hundreds of billions of dollars in property and economic damage.
Isn’t is great to live in such a safe part of the country?
Maybe..……in November 2008, The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that a serious earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone could result in "the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States," further predicting "widespread and catastrophic" damage across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and particularly Tennessee, where a 7.7 magnitude quake or greater would cause damage to tens of thousands of structures affecting water distribution, transportation systems, and other vital infrastructure. The earthquake is expected to also result in many thousands of fatalities.
Maybe, we all live on the edge, but Californians just can’t deny it.
As writer Alice Gregory notes upon moving East:
In California, you know when you’re burning. The brightness hurts, and when you close your eyes, you see red. The cliffs are high and jagged, the ocean smashes the shoreline, and landslides really can bring you down. There you are dwarfed and powerless. There are earthquakes; and mudslides; and for about three months of the year, entire regions of the state threaten to spontaneously combust. You wouldn’t dare sleep naked in California—you might need to run outside in the middle of the night, awakened to a rattling house and a mile-deep fissure in your front lawn.
We love to watch the Olympics for many reasons, not the least of which is that moment of suspense and the drama of the competitors’ expressions of joy or defeat. Vicariously, we relive our own near-triumphs and empathize, or imagine the glorious moment of victory and feel envy or admiration. I love the synchronized diving and the moment the divers poise on the edge of the board. Every muscle of their bodies must be perfectly attuned, and to my way of thinking there must be a spiritual as well as a visual/mechanical connection in order for these dives to be so perfectly harmonized, almost poetic.
But there, as they pause on the edge, everything is potential: victory, defeat, even danger, and yet they voluntarily do this over and over again! So, of course, do we. (CIM)
Each day we arise is a journey to the edge.
We have only to acknowledge our own vulnerability to understand how close we really come.
And I am not just referring to our physical risk, although that is greater than we acknowledge, given the way we hurtle down the freeways at enormous speeds, live, eat, and move in ways that are contraindicated for longevity and comfort; and all of the many toxic and violent threats of modern life. I am also referring to what I am just going to call our own theological fault lines. Those potential rifts and separations that we pretend not to observe, that we neglect at our own expense. You can only live deceptively and selfishly for so long before it begins to consume you. You can see these upheavals in peoples bodies and faces.
When our USA men’s diving team was waiting to see whether they would win a Bronze medal or no medal at all, their reactions were so different. The younger man (age 17) was fraught with anxiety. The older of the two, who was actually more on the edge in this case, since he is 34 and would not have another chance to ever win a medal, was smiling. He looked okay to me. He stayed with the younger guy even though he preferred to not watch the other results. I actually have no idea but I would like to think he was at peace because he had done his best. If you watched TV at all this week, you probably know, they did win the bronze medal.
Here is my point.
Whether we acknowledge it, live in denial, glimpse it from time to time, we are all living on the edge. There is really so little separating us from huge loss and disaster. (mention Colo, 4th anniversary of Knoxville, etc…) When we know this, we have a choice. We can figuratively grasp and compete and consume one another, acting as if nothing but our own survival, winning, getting through, surviving , the “bottom line,” how things come out, and fixing everything that is wrong is really what it’s all about. You may have guessed by now that this is not what I would recommend theologically.
However, I see people acting this way every day, as if the product were more important than the person. Yes, even Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes, even myself.
But when I meditate upon the edge, the fault line of my own existence, spend some time in that land where we all live theologically, where no one finally survives, then I know the answer is love, respect and decency for every human I encounter, and I can return to other humans, regardless of how hungrily they may be licking their chops, with kindness and regard.
C.S. Lewis talks with one of his college students about
why we love if losing hurts so much, Lewis who lost his mother as a
child and his wife as an adult, responds, “I have no answers anymore,
only the life I have lived. Twice in that life... I've been given
the choice: As a boy... and as a man. The boy chose safety. The man
chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's
Taking this to a universal level we can look to Joanna Macy, Buddhist teacher and eco-feminist. Macy states that feeling that one
must always be hopeful can wear a person out, but if we just show
up, and be present, do not pull down the blinds, the possibilities
exist that the world will heal. She believes there is a new paradigm
occurring that is known as “The Great Turning.” The Great Turning
is a concept she helped coin and define. Macy calls The Great
Turning “the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the
industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” She
says it is a time of transition from a bankrupt political society,
which measures success by growth and profit and is being replaced
by moral strength, courage and creativity. The generations alive
today may not see a drastic change in their lives or environment
but the choices we make for profit today will effect the beings in
the next hundreds and thousands of years and determine whether
they will be born of sound mind and body.
So when we feel ourselves in those places of fear and anxiety, let us turn toward one another with love as the first principle, and we will find our way.
The shifting plates, the restive earth, your room, your precious life, they all proceed from love, the ground on which we walk, together.