That day had been espectacular, the greenery of the rainy season in Manabí shined with the contrast of the intense blue from a cleared sky. José Luis and Antonio, the master carpenters from Tabuga, had worked the previous 2 weeks with Esteban placing the shelves that held our library of 4000 books. They devoted that day to brushing cabinets, sand down cuts, and polish the last blemishes of our old furniture (some could confuse them for antiques, but they weren’t; they were just old furniture, pretty but old, bought in flea markets in Virginia and brought with the migrating container in which we carried that accumulated life through our gringo years).
That afternoon, when the carpenters, the plumbers, the construction workers had left, it was 6:30 pm, the hour to relax in Manabí. At that hour the neighbors get together in front of their houses, pull out a chair and they sit under a shade to chat up, people watch: greet and be greeted. That accumulated capital during the day is one of the rewards of living in a town that has no hurry, owes no one, nor is behind on anything. By that time, Esteban, bent on placing the last book on the tallest shelf of the library, found himself in the motlier corner of his study propped on the ladder, he heard me calling from the garden to help me with the laundry basket that I had just gathered up. Esteban came out to carry the basket, filled with clean laundry and smelling of sun. As we walked on the trail back to the house, it started: first lightly, then constant and finally brutal, savage. The worst or best thing that I had seen in my life: the privileged spectacle of a 7.8 earthquake which erases any recognizable contour, unifies bodies and disappears coordinates. An unrepeatable event (we hope) that happens outside of any reasoning by which our pathetic species assimilates nature.
No one can pretend to know if there is a reason for these events to happen, no one can ascertain if there is something that stops or pushes an individual to find safety, no, there is no one, there is nothing, and I have no quarrel with that. Or the inverse. Everything is matter and that “everything” is what we felt shaking, first slowly, then, when we said, “it’ll pass, it’ll pass” and it didn’t pass, that everything started to gain strength, like a great dog that awakens and shakes, and the more it shakes the more it enjoys what it ejects, and like that, as a bug on the surface we were all shaken off: plants, trees, the house, us, we were all part of this everything that shook without bad intentions, or good ones… without other intention than that of shaking… matter shaking whole and one with it: there is nothing more. 663 deaths, 35000 houses destroyed (ours included) and millions of dollars in economic losses are the rational quantifying ways the human species uses to make sense of an event that has none.
The only explanation is to be found in how we respond to what happens to us. Truthfully, what one does explains nothing, but gives meaning to that which has none. An “that” is life, with or without earthquake.