Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 88: Oh, an Earthquake

My aunt saw my kitchen on the news. In a segment broadcast on her local NBC affiliate in the USA about a recent earthquake in Japan, a short clip showed my kitchen shelf swaying and some instant ramen falling from the top of my refrigerator.

Three different TV networks had messaged me on Twitter to get usage permission after I shared the video. It wasn’t a particularly interesting clip, but it was posted just a few minutes after the quake, and news services like what’s fresh.

The earthquake itself didn’t last all that long, but I was able to capture most of it because I started recording the scene within a few seconds of it beginning. My immediate thought was to record, so I did. I had no fear during that earthquake, and frankly never have in any that I’ve experienced. Which some people have told me is strange.

Fear is a natural and reasonable response to an earthquake. The ground decides to move of its own accord, shaking everything on its surface. People may be injured or killed, buildings and their contents damaged or destroyed, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it as it happens. We, as weak little humans, are entirely helpless to stop it. It’s scary.

So why am I always so calm during these events?

Part of it could be explained by compartmentalization. In emergency situations, some people automatically become especially focused and rational, with any related response not landing until later.

Another part of it is perhaps that, after living long enough in a place where smaller earthquakes are a regular part of daily life, a person simply gets used to them (to whatever extent a person can become accustomed to the unpredictable).

With earthquakes, though, there’s also an odd comfort in having absolutely no control in the situation. You have to simply wait to see what happens. Fear and panic do nothing to help.

For whatever reason my brain is wired such that a fear response never enters the picture. Not with earthquakes, at least.

In social situations, like asking someone out on a date? Absolutely terrifying. But when my home is suddenly lurching about and I have no idea if it’s just going to be a few things falling from shelves or if the building is going to collapse with me inside it? Absolutely calm and focused.

It is useful, in that I am a good person to have around in an emergency situation. It occasionally leads others to regard me with suspicion, though, and some have even taken offense to my finding earthquakes more fascinating than frightening, as if it is innately disrespectful to earthquake victims to not be automatically terrified.

Eventually, I’m sure I’ll be here for at least one especially large quake, something of a scale that is truly life-threatening. And when it happens, I hope that my reaction is the same as usual, so at least I can document and be of help in the following response period. Not any time soon, though, I hope. As captivating as the smaller earthquakes can sometimes be, at least for weirdos like me, I’m perfectly content for the big one to remain indefinitely in the future.

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David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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