Friday, May 29, 2009

O Still Small Voice

A 7.1 earthquake struck in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras on Wednesday night and it woke people (including me) up in the middle of the night. Here in Suchitoto it was preceded by the noisiest and most dramatic thunderstorm and rainstorm I've experienced since the year I lived in Oklahoma. The thunderstorm struck at 11:30 and raged at full volume for a very long half hour: then came the rain, a torrent. Finally I went happily back to sleep and just before 2:30 I half awoke, realizing that the pleasant rocking I was experiencing was, in fact, an earthquake. I was too sleepy to pay proper attention, but noted that it was going on for a very long time (someone said ten minutes; someone said two minutes; I'd guess it was more like 30 seconds which seems like eternity during an earthquake). No damage at all here. There was great damage and some deaths, many injuries in Honduras, especially toward the Caribbean coast and islands.

I stayed in my bed because I was too sleepy to figure out what else to do. Peggy O'Neill told me yesterday that I should have gone out into the patio, because people get killed when the roofs fall in on them. Wouldn't take much for that to happen. The roof here has sprung a leak in one bedroom, and Higinia, my landlord's sister and local representative, asked Alcides to come take a look. Alcides works at Peggy's Centro Arte para la Paz, and came over during his lunch hour to see what the problem was. He got on the roof and started removing tiles: it turns out that they're not nailed down or glued down, so you can just take the tiles off and lay them to one side (why don't they all come crashing down in the torrential rains? Got me. Must be quite an art in the placement). Under the tiles and over the roof framing is lamina, the scalloped plastic or tin base roofing, and the lamina over this bedroom had several holes, clearly needed replacing.

So I can understand why getting out into the patio (and as far away from crashing roof tiles as possible) would be the smart thing to do during an earthquake, but you have to wake up first. Instead I turned over, went back to sleep, and thought the next morning of one of my favorite hymns, with words by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier:
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
It was a night filled with earthquake, wind, torrential rain and the fire of lightning and also with the still, small voice that is always there if we can only stop making noise long enough to listen.

1 comment:

  1. Whittier's poem (made famous recently by Dunkirk scene in the film Atonement) draws from the original source of the "still small voice": 1 Kings 19:12 (KJV, in the Douay it's "a whistling of gentle air").