“When I was young the earth moved so that you could feel it all shift in space and were afraid it would go out from under you.” Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Like countless other folks in New England, I found myself momentarily caught up in a rather bizarre course of events earlier this afternoon.
Shortly before 2:00 PM, while seated at my desk scanning the salient points of a medical article online, I noticed the pull chain of my desk lamp start to jiggle back and forth like a small pendulum. At the same time the leaves in the potted plant by my laptop began to tremble. I tagged a similar disturbance of the leafy shoots of the peace lily in the pot by the credenza. A mild wave of nausea passed through my stomach, reminiscent of the feeling I used to get when the cutter I was attached to in the Coast Guard would get underway.
The tremor lasted all of ten seconds. I sat completely still, waiting, anticipating the worst. When nothing else occurred, I stood up and walked down the hallway to the front office. All of my coworkers had a look of consternation on their faces.
“Did you feel it?” I asked.
“Maybe we should move everyone outside for now.”
I didn’t have to make the suggestion twice. Medical assistants and receptionists began escorting mothers and children out the front entrance into the parking lot.
I retraced my steps through the back office and exited via the side door. Groups of people were huddled in front of each entrance all along the strip mall.
“Did you feel it, too?” Everyone seemed to need reassurance that they had in fact experienced what they thought they had felt.
We observed the lamp posts towering above the parking lot and looked to the trees beyond. Nothing moved — not a branch, not a leaf. We waited, holding our collective breaths.
“What was it?” someone asked.
“Earthquake — it had to have been a mild earthquake.”
We waited an additional ten minutes, then filtered back into the building. Quickly, I did an online search and found that there had indeed been a quake just outside of Richmond,Virginia, that registered 5.8 on the Richter scale.
Twenty minutes later an article on the Times website described the quake. They had evacuated the Capitol building and the White House in D.C. At least three pinnacles on the central tower of the National Cathedral had broken off. Within minutes no less than 133 comments were posted. The quake had been felt as far away as Vermont and North Carolina.
I listened to the report on NPR on my way home from work. Most folks in the region had never experienced the eerie feeling that a tremor of the earth brings before.
One woman interviewed said that when she felt the earth move, she wasn’t disappointed. “I’ve been married a long time,” she explained. “I haven’t felt the earth move for years. At my age, I’ll gladly take any movement I can get.”