The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that “rocked” the small town of Mineral, Virginia on Tuesday and could be felt by an estimated 12.2 million people up and down the Eastern Seaboard ranked right up there with the most traumatic experiences of my life. Getting braces, first kiss, awful acne, nothing can compare with the horrifying feeling of everything good and stable in this world being yanked out from under your very feet. It was like having your grandmother’s finest china on a table and trying to whip out the tablecloth without knocking anything off, and you do it and everyone’s nervous but then excited that the dishware is ok, when suddenly a rogue train bursts its way through your living room window. Scary.
Here in the EPIC office, we hear the rumblings of trains at Union Station pretty regularly, so originally everyone thought it was just another commuter headed north. Then it got stronger. The first thought that came to my head hearkened back to high school physics, that the train had somehow matched the resonant frequency of the building (it can happen!), and I knew that I was about to be buried under a mountain of brick and rubble when the whole edifice came tumbling down. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed over my panic and our entire staff managed to escape down the stairs and out the door.
Still slightly on edge, the EPIC staff returned to the building. I at least secretly hoped that there would be a few good aftershocks, but fortunately for everyone, in DC and up and down the coast, the earthquake turned out to be not so serious. There were some minor injuries, and at least one grocery store aisle was ravaged, but aside from a four hour commute back home hardly anyone was even inconvenienced in a major way.
The most surprising, and heartwarming, story I’ve heard coming out of DC’s latest natural disaster was a message to EPIC Director Erik within minutes of the quake from a friend in Baghdad asking if he was ok. Erik told us, “That was the first time he’s ever had to ask me that.” What amazed me about it was, first, that this man in Baghdad knew so quickly that the quake happened, and second, that the first thought that came to him was of his friend thousands of miles away.
Everyone has their own problems to deal with, and anyone in Baghdad has probably had more than their share, but even when a very minor earthquake rumbles a city like Washington, there occurs an upwelling of camaraderie from around the globe that illustrates of how connected the world community can be. And the thought of a man in Baghdad, who lives every day with the legacy of war, reaching out to a friend whose most pressing problem was finding a paper towel to wipe off his desk, is a touching reminder that the relationships we build and the community we create will ultimately be the forces that define our lives.