Friday, 21 October 2016

Everything IS OK Until it Isn't

Yesterday, the 20th of October was the Great California Shakeout; it's an annual event in which people living here in California go through a series of events designed to remind us that we are living in an area where earthquakes - damaging earthquakes - happen with some level of regularity, and help us to prepare as best we can for the next event. 

Coincidentally, just three days before on the 17th, in the San Francisco Bay Area, we marked the anniversary of the (in)famous 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake that shook the region, killing dozens of people and causing billions of dollars in damage.

For most Americans, the quake is probably best remembered for the disruption it caused in the 1989 "Bay Bridge" World Series between the Giants and the Oakland A's.  The two teams were just about ready to start Game 3 in Candlestick Park; the game obviously never took place.

Much has changed since 1989 here. Candlestick Park is gone (the Giants moved into Pacific Bell Park in 2000, the football 49ers moved to Levi Stadium - itself not even in San Francisco a couple of years ago); several freeways - the Central Freeway, Embarcadero Freeway, and Cypress Structure were damaged and ultimately removed. The eastern half of the Bay Bridge - which partially collapsed - has been demolished, with the final pylons supporting it being systematically dynamited over the past few months.

Those of us who live in the Bay Area, and indeed, California, accept that living here brings with it risks. It is a certainty that another damaging earthquake is going to happen; we make a wager that it will either not be in our lifetimes, or if it comes, it will be focused in another part of the area - perhaps the East Bay (the Hayward Fault under Alameda County is the current front-runner according to the USGS for the next "big one") - and thus it will spare us.

It's all part of the bargain we make with Fate. We accept that a catastrophe can happen in exchange for the climate and physical beauty of the area. In fact, our mountainous, rugged coasts that abut the Pacific and encircle the San Francisco Bay are created by the very faults that threaten to destroy at any time.

Life itself comes with risks, of course. Some are distant and somewhat abstract, whilst others are immediate and quite concrete.

It all is a reminder that everything is, in a sense, sudden.  

Put another way, everything is OK until it isn't.

And that I guess is the lesson for me of the "California Shakeout."

I'm fond of thinking of the quip of John Lennon that life is what happens when you're making plans. 

My father was a planner; he liked to think of the long term. He was always imagining a day that he thought would come. 

It didn't work out that way. My father ran out of tomorrows almost 25 years ago.

Sometimes, tomorrow simply doesn't come. For 63 people who woke up on 17th October 1989 in the Bay Area to a sunny, warm October day, there would not be an 18th.

I, too, like to plan. But I always try to stop to remind myself that ultimately, whilst planning for tomorrow is prudent, there will be a day when, like my father, I am going to run out of tomorrows. 

My wife, son, and I have been most fortunate to have opportunities - opportunities to travel, to live in abroad (in Paris, France), to see plays on Broadway and in London's Covent Garden. Of course, we plan for the days that are to come, saving for schooling, for retirement, for the unforeseen leaking roof.  

But it's important - every day, if possible - to take some time and just enjoy being alive. Spend some money on a nice meal from time to time. Take a trip to a foreign land. Simply do nothing at all.

I have long thought that pain and tragedy are perhaps the greatest teachers we have; experiences from misfortune are like the ashes left behind after a fire. The looming possibility of earthquakes (or fires, or, if you live in the mid-west, tornadoes) are not only threats; they are reminders to us that our lives are ephemeral.  We should not be afraid, but we should be aware. Guard your time preciously, jealously, because it is precious.