I wouldn’t have felt it if someone hadn’t warned me.
Then again, maybe I would have – it did last almost a full two minutes. I was in a mountain refuge when it happened. When I went outside, I was standing on 5000 meters of Chimborazo, the tallest volcano in Ecuador, and I had only earth and volcano beneath my feet, and then I felt it tremble. I didn’t have a point of reference to visualize the movement of my body, or the earth, but through the 20 square inches or so that make up the soles of my feet, I felt a murmuring energy that pulsed up through my ankles. That was unlike any experience I’d ever felt before. But, we were hundreds of kilometers out in the middle of nowhere. What was that? Do you usually feel earthquakes way out here? Do you think it was Cotopaxi? I hope not…These were our questions.
This was my experience with the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador not long ago.
I didn’t have cell service. My family didn’t know where I was.
When I got back to Quito the following afternoon, I hopped on the phone before doing anything else. That’s when I started to learn what happened. Over 200 people dead, my parents said. Thousands missing. That’s when I started to research what happened. There were videos, and survivor accounts, and images of the destruction. I began to cry. Sometimes, things happen in the world that make real life feel like a nightmare, and I can’t help but cry. This was one of those things.
How could this be real life? This is a nightmare. Thousands of people’s lives just became a nightmare.
Waking up the next morning, I read that the death count had nearly doubled already. Over 4000 injured, and who knows how many people missing. Can you even imagine that terrible limbo, of missing a loved one, and not knowing where they were? Are they alive? Are they scared? Nobody can tell you anything.
Days passed like this.
From Quito, every person you saw was organizing some kind of relief effort. People were collecting donations and people were donating and people were organizing mapping efforts and people were volunteering to go to the coast – it was truly inspiring to see the country pull together like that.
But the death toll kept climbing. Soon, the 72-hr window had passed, and rescue teams were no longer looking for survivors, rather, just cleaning up. It broke my heart over, and over, and over again. In two minutes, everything can change.
It sends shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes every time I really let myself think about it. How unbelievably lucky are we. We who wake up safe every morning, and get to make somebody laugh, and get to tell someone we love them, and get to run so fast your muscles ignite from the inside out. You don’t get to choose to whom you’re born. You don’t get to choose what kind of financial or social or geographical location you’d like to live your life in. Sure there are certain measures you can take to try and have control over your life, but nightmares like this remind me that that feeling of “control” is just that. It’s a feeling. This unbelievable masterpiece which we call human life, 100 short years on this planet, is so beyond anything we can control.
And that’s why it’s the single most beautiful gift any of us have ever been given.
I mourn for the families and friends who lost loved ones. And I feel shock and anger and sadness for those whose lives have changed forever because of the quake. I’m so very fortunate to work for an organization that can help people – almost 100 people became amputees since April 16, and that number may rise. For a country that’s already been struggling with a downturned economy, how can they hope to deal with the billions of dollars in damage and rehabilitation that its people now need? ROMP can help. We have a huge support network, and we’ve been asking for help either in-kind O&P materials or monetary donations for the creation of a relief fund for orthotic and prosthetic care, and soon we’ll roll out a care delivery plan that we’ve been working on with the government and other in-country organizations. That feels good. To be able to help. But it’s not so good to feel that it’s not enough.
So many people are trying their best to help, to offer support and services, but how can you help someone who’s in a nightmare? These people can’t be woken up.
For me, I would lose my mind if I tried to logically and rationally understand situations like this. I’ve tried. It happens all across the world, and most of those stories never make it to our ears. But this earthquake, being so close to home, this is really shaking me. The only thing I can continue to do with all my heart is to help when and how I can. To do my best to be kind, to live my life as a global citizen, to serve others, and never for a second take it or anybody else’s for granted.
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” -Pre