When earthquakes happen, what do you do?

It was just shy of the ambrosial hours on Sunday in Oakland, California when the rumbling began. In a dreamy state of half-consciousness my thoughts became all sorts of interesting manifestations of worry; animals on the roof? A late season tornado whipping through The Bay, unannounced?  A freight train on the loose? Apocalypse after all?

Nope, an earthquake.

It wasn’t that dramatic really, 11 seconds in total of feeling like we were housed in a tent during 35 mph winds, yet 11 seconds long enough to shake out my rug and leave me reflecting on the dust that had been unsettled.

What if something had happened to my partner, does he know how—and how much—he has inspired me?

What if the house came tumbling down, does the 27-inch iMac even matter?

What if something happened to my barely 5 month old baby girl, have I fully embraced what an awesome and humbling and deeply fulfilling level of exhaustion she’s helped me achieve?

What if something happened to you before I had the chance to thank you for being?

What if something happened to me, have I said all the things I needed to say, have I done the things I wanted to do, have I lived the life I have been charged to live?

[Silence.]

A truthful pause broken. Broken by the wholeness of being with a gentle but firm, “N-O”.

Life has a way of shaking things up from time to time, of awakening us in ways we didn’t even realize we were sleeping. Earthquakes are natural—nature made—wake up calls. We need such riveting moments to bring us back to life, to fix our attention on being here now, to remind us that this isn’t a rehearsal, this is the real deal playing field on which no matter how prepared we might be for the game we will never entirely understand what nor whom we are up against, to serve as an impetus for us to recommit to our own unique dharma: life’s purpose, and its continued discovery.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

Maybe your wake up call is an actual 6.0 on the Richter scale. Or maybe it is hearing about the shooting of another unarmed man of color on the 6 o’clock news, or witnessing a different crime on the streets, or losing a job or someone you love. Earthquakes come in morphing forms of sickness, injury, accidents, disorder, disasters—all sorts of unexpected fill-in-the-blanks that force us to reevaluate our existence and our presence in thereof.

What if we stopped keeping our later lists and pursued the fullest expression of life right now?

I’m telling my partner today that I live with less because he’s taught me that it can actually be more. I’m loosening my grip over materials that pale in the presence of meaningful experiences. I will hold my baby in the middle of the night tonight and say thank you for this unspeakable joy in my arms as she wails while her burps get stuck in the coils of her growing intestines. Thank you too, for sharing even a few moments of this lifetime with me.

As earthquakes inevitably come in your own life may you be vulnerable enough to let them rattle your cage in a way that brings pause, and ultimately leaves you journeying towards an existence that feels shared, expressive, authentic, and complete.

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