Deep breaths mixed with sighs of relief as we headed back into our routines as best we could. We made it through a major natural disaster, it would seem, with a minimum of disaster. While we celebrate the remarkable fact that no lives were lost, it was still a seismic event, literally and emotionally. As such, it is wise to stop for another breath, to take stock and to examine our hearts, minds and souls to discern what our next steps might be. Because this quake was bad, but the next quake will come.
So preparation starts now. Most of us discovered some weak points in our preparedness. We learned about the dependability of our food and water sources. We learned about our batteries and fuel supplies. And many of us were reminded where not to store our plates and glasses.
But preparation starts now in a deeper sense as well: The zero death toll can largely be attributed to the way our infrastructure is built, maintained, funded and regulated. We can prepare for the next earthquake by investing in our buildings, roads and bridges. This includes paying for them. When budgets are slashed and taxes are called “theft,” it may be a good time to remember that last week’s absence of deaths wasn’t a miracle. It wasn’t an act of God sparing us. It was purchased with our tax dollars and with the career-long efforts of structural engineers, architects and safety professionals. Safety costs, and if those who vaguely clamor for slashed budgets, lowered taxes and decrease regulations need to be reminded that to do so will endanger lives.
Preparation starts now in a more localized sense, right in your own neighborhood. Every major world religion sings out with it some form of the command to “love thy neighbor.” After the quake, neighbors could be seen walking around all of our many Anchorage neighborhoods, not to ask for help but to offer it. Checking on friends and family is one thing, but many people were also reaching out to neighbors they had never met, and reaching out online to complete strangers with offers of food and housing. This type of outreach isn’t the norm: We live in an age of increasing isolation from those who live closest to us. Backyards and basements have replaced front porches and parlors; the internet and Netflix are crowding out our time for family gatherings and the public square. This isn’t some insidious evil, but it does come at a cost: The cost of truly knowing the people around us. So the preparation for the next earthquake starts now, in that we should learn our neighbors’ needs, even if that means beginning by learning our neighbors’ names.
“Love thy neighbor” means knowing that the people next door are OK, and being able to ask them by name. “Love thy neighbor” means keeping bridges strong and buildings safe, even the ones that I will never use, so that they stay up when the next quake comes. “Love thy neighbor” means providing for first responders, even if I don’t call them. It means ensuring that teachers receive a salary that is high enough to show them the proper respect owed to the people who just shepherded our children through what may be the most frightening day of their lives, and did so with professionalism, kindness and grace. “Love thy neighbor” costs, and preparing for the next quake means that we start paying today.
In our previous preparations, we had all become familiar with the phrase, “drop, cover and hold on," and on Friday, most of us put it into practice. As we take out deep breaths and take our first steps out into what is still an unstable world, we have to remember to love our neighbors. To provide for the safety of others. To “drop, cover and hold on to each other.”
Rev. Matthew D. Schultz serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage.
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