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  • Kimberley Pittman-Schulz

Everyone’s Earthquake

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” — Desmond Tutu

For a moment, the broken glass creates openings in the hardwood floor. Pieces of grey sky, white ceiling, flashes of iridescent green, a hummingbird, are reflected below me. I’m floating. The tiniest flecks of glass make a pool of glimmering at the foot of the bed. All’s surreal, my face and the colors of my clothing fragmented, shiny, and beautiful.

It is only as I crouch, calmly sweeping the glass into a dustpan, that I notice a slight quiver in my hands. The earthquake is done for now.

Two days before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the populous Port-au-Prince region of Haiti to the ground, a 6.5 earthquake hit just off our North Coast of small towns and dense ridges of redwoods, firs, and spruce. The nearby town of Eureka with its historic waterfront, Victorian homes, and silty ground below, shook and undulated the most. No deaths, few injuries, minimal damage to the community.

In this well-developed nation, even century-old buildings have a better hope of standing through an earthquake than the newer, more humbly built homes and offices of a poor country.

Several days prior to our tremor, the Solomon Islands were rocked by two major quakes (magnitudes of 6.6 and 7.1) less than an hour apart, followed by a tsunami, demolishing a couple of villages on the islands of Rendova and Tetepare. About 1,000 residents of that lightly populated region are homeless, but thankfully alive.

Two ideas now nest in my safe, sheltered, well-fed, and tea-hydrated head:

  1. One: Whoever doesn’t think that everything is connected, that we’re all ultimately one people rooted in the shifting plates of the same planet, is missing the most important fact of life.

  2. Two: The affluent and the impoverished live in different worlds despite inhabiting the same planet, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

The area in which I live is known as the "Ring of Fire." This enormous Ring pretty much includes the fringes of most countries edging the Pacific Ocean. I’ve lived most of my adult life in the Ring. It’s home to 90% of the world’s earthquakes and owns three-quarters of the Earth’s volcanoes, slightly more than 450 volcanoes in all (mostly quiet, but a few spouting as I write).

We Rock! L


After the earthquake struck here, and since the main quake in Haiti, I’ve been visiting the US Geological Survey website, which posts, among other things, all of the significant earthquakes around the world on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Looking at the USGS world earthquake map, the Ring of Fire is pretty obvious. While Haiti is not part of the Ring, the same process, called strike-slip faulting, that punched my area, ruptured Port-au-Prince as well as those villages in the Solomon Islands.

Haiti continues to tremble, experiencing 14 earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater, and dozens of lesser quakes, since January 12th. When looking at the crumbled buildings and the dark faces of Haiti on the television screen, one might be inclined to focus more on differences, to separate oneself from the pain and the poverty, but the depth of differences between any two people, any two places is always shallow.

What is common is deep in all of us. The child cries for his mother. The husband won’t rest until he knows his wife is safe. The grandmother consoles. The brother keeps looking. Some woman is always willing to take in orphans, stretch the flour a little farther.

When someone you love is lost or dies, who you are changes irrevocably.

Haitian Red Cross volunteer Miname Glaude holds Michel Laurent (15 months) at a Red Cross Medical center in Croix de Priez

Photo: American Red Cross/Talia Frenkel

Now I'm walking Clam Beach, letting a big tide roar in my ears. I realize that some of the birds that know this coast, certain species, also know Haiti’s coast. I imagine someone not so different from me, living with some measure of contentment in Haiti before the quake, excited by and calmed by birds.

She knows the flights and calls of Marbled godwits, Willets and Dunlins, Sanderlings and Western sandpipers, Pied-billed grebes, Great blue herons, Snowy egrets, Green-winged teals, Northern harriers, Red-tailed hawks, Killdeers, Double-crested cormorants, Brown pelicans, Mourning doves, Barn owls and Burrowing owls, Ruby-crowned kinglets, Swainson’s thrushes, Turkey vultures. . . .

A Turkey vulture glides over me, a bird often derided because its role is to ensure that death doesn’t go to waste. Yet the Turkey vulture, carrying such loss high into the air, is among the most graceful in flight, held aloft on thermals so effortlessly that they can sometimes glide for more than 6 hours without flapping their wings.

Still, the vultures' presence, if they spiral over Port-au-Prince today, may seem, to people worn and still-frightened, like another curse.

What can anyone do who is not on the scene digging through rubble for the sound of a trapped voice?

As someone who’s made a living in philanthropy, I know that money can’t directly fix problems, but it can fuel creative problem-solving. Philanthropy can build hope at times that can otherwise seem hopeless. Yes, hope is real—I learned that working for ChildFund International.

Philanthropy says, “I care about you, even though I’ll never know you,” and from that foundation, comes new homes, offices, and communities.

In giving to the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, I think of that other me in Haiti. I want her safe. I want her to have again that basic right, that pleasure in hearing the whirring of wings when a flock of Sanderlings lands beside her. I want her to be able to watch a Turkey vulture drifting in the sky and feel only grace.


Please support Haiti’s relief efforts—everyone can do something. If not the American Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders, find the charity and give what you can—donations of things, money or your time.


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