Prompted by the recent planetary upheavals I thought about the two earthquakes I have felt in my life. I live in a safe environment at the moment – south western England; my house SunnyBank sits on sturdy clay. I am grateful for this position, although an earthquake has rattled this part of the world in 1378 ruining Saint Michaels’ church on top of the Tor. The tower is the only part still standing and it makes the hill (and sacred site) even more an impressive landmark on the Somerset levels. Which by the way are truly level with the sea or just under – perhaps I have to re-think my sense of safety.

When I lived in the Netherlands in the 1980’s I woke early one morning because it was suddenly very quiet. Sub-consciously I must have been aware of birds stopping singing and wind dying down. I was listening to this stillness in my waterbed when a slow, soft rumbling emerged from ‘somewhere’. Seconds later, my bed started moving and I experienced a wild sea with growing rolling mini-waves underneath my body. It only lasted for half a minute, my children did not wake up and everything was calm again; the familiar bird-song resumed as well as the rustling of the leaves. Quake over.

The second earth quake I felt was when I visited my sister Carline who years ago had immigrated to Suriname on the northern coast of the South American landmass. I travelled there with my two other siblings, Sylvia and Agnès. We had rented a small ground floor apartment on the outskirts of the capital Paramaribo. That particular day we were melting in the heat and we opted for a quiet day: no sight-seeing for us, just books and talks. Later we would be going into the city in the relative coolness of the evening, to dine with Carline and partner. Blessing the shade we were in and listening to the warm tropical sounds surrounding us, I saw Sylvia making wobbling movements, as if she was dancing on the seat of the wooden garden bench. I was just about to ask why she felt she had to move her body in that way when I realised that I was wobbling too. Then it hit us: this was an earthquake. Agnès was inside, using the bathroom and my first reaction was to run inside to warn her.

Later she told her version of the story; she was surprised that the truck she thought she heard passing by in the distance could make the lavatory shake that violently. We ran outside grabbing our bags with passports and return tickets and there we were, on the lawn, all alone. Apart from the madly barking dogs, the whole neighbourhood was eerily quiet. No humans to be seen. Maybe people were used to this earthly violence? We decided to go to town early that evening and we noticed that the quake was something everyone was talking about in the public transport system. It was the first one in hundreds of years and people were as much surprised as we were by this potential catastrophic occurrence.

In the ninety seconds of the quake I had been freigthened, shaken, insecure and I had been experiencing feelings of raw panic. The only damage that day was a crack in an old school building in the capital. That was all. I think I have felt only a tiny, tiny little fraction of the emotions people in New Zealand and Japan must have felt during the few minutes their earth was shaking.

Seeing the devastation in the aftermath of these earthquakes makes me aware, again, how important it is to have close-knit communities. Do we know our neighbours? Do we know where the elderly and vulnerable people in our communities live? If anything “major” happens on our small piece of earth, do we know how to give help and healing and how to get those as well? I’m not only talking here about governmental organisations; they are necessary too of course, but about initiatives people locally can develop. (Check out the Transition Town movement.) Getting to know your (wider) community is important. A possible way of getting into that community-mode is by smiling at the people you encounter during the day, by greeting the first strangers you see outside your house. In short, simple friendly gestures that make everyone feel they belong and belonging makes people into human beings who are all equal, all accepted, all loved and known. (And isn’t that what we want for ourselves as well?)

– Karin Schluter Lonegren