Dividing my time between Japan and the Philippines, both countries great fault lines tend to form my true fears. Two different nations, islands afloat in a vast dangerous sea, where quakes can occur with the ease of heat lightning, flickering and flashing and fading so fast. This makes their inhabitants either rare optimists or just common plain fools, their constant delusion a willing forestall of upcoming pure carnage, or else the remnants of a faith not yet dismantled by time.
Fifteen years ago, a big boom shook all of Baguio, toppling hotels, demolishing houses, its ease and false rage like a child lowering his fist to smash misshapen sand castles. Need I mention Japan, and its history of shakes and small quivers that long to be quakes, each rumble an audition of sorts, a test of tectonics, a possible prelude. I have been in buildings up high when the frame starts to tilt, a slight steady shift to the right, a quick return to the left, a sequence repeated, a life in its sway. One expects such a sensation atop a surfboard, small waves underneath, but to feel a modern glass edifice forgo its own strength, that firm grounding beneath that holds up all above, makes one question the wisdom of progress in all its false forms.
When the ground opens up and takes down its steel tenants, we can guess that the game is fixed from the get-go, because the ground always wins. Right? You can’t punish the earth. It just sits there. We rebuild with great fanfare and small acts of exertion, a daily grind of construction that defies all our good sense. Everything lies beneath us, waiting. I’m not saying malevolence and pure spite can be found underfoot. Yet nature, too, has a form of slight vengeance that could mirror our own. Not controlled by an intellect, or a crude form of rash instinct, but simply innate, its proof of existence the sum of its actions. Concrete ripped in fine slashes like xacto knife cuts in notepaper. Stepping over these cracks, the width of small chasms, a child’s game brought to life.
Even writing down such small fears feels like a sly taunt to the gods. If I say it out loud, acknowledge my own anxious voice, perhaps nothing will happen, the ground will stay put. For sometimes I worry. I wonder. Selfish wonders. That tiny shames could grow large if the end arrives at odd times. If ‘the big one’ occurs while I’m stuck in the shower, or merely having fun with myself (or another!), what a way to go out! Naked, hopefully erect. (Strange thoughts, tiny notions, contemplating these exits, but a human does think of absurd final rites, and I'm simply human: does one’s hard-on die down right away when life fades straight to black? Or does it linger straight up and damn proud, even as your soul shifts its course? To be found buried in rubble is a fate cruel enough, but with a salute such as that poking its way through those rocks! Do first year med students get quizzed on such stuff?) The smallest of shames, magnified by the scale of a country destroyed, ten thousand lives torn asunder. The loss of small children and old people, smothered slowly to death, wars with a vision of lovers deeply french-kissing as ceilings quickly fall down. What a sight. I could draw a thousand of these hopeful images, and pray that each portrait might give nature some pause before havoc becomes one more option to choose.
Best not to brood on these endless stray paths. I am not a fatalist, not exactly, but I know that nature has random whims we are foolish to judge. To be stuck between two worlds all too similar, each land containing the mad schism of earth’s own divide, is to recognize certain fates that might well come to pass. One can wait.
I also believe in the sweet whim of chance. Those misshapen cracks in the ground, the earthquake’s zipper-like indentation – perhaps those gaps are like breadcrumbs, leading me back to a place close to home. All of nature’s senseless designs must, I can dream, be aligned with a great many and varied gracious muses of fortune, so I suppose I will have to hope that luck’s infinite footprints can on that shaking day be seen by my own squinting eyes. If this vision is clear, I could then follow these random slight imprints, and stable ground might be found.