Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Calming Rattle

On August 23, 2011, at 1:51 p.m., a very rare thing happened. There was a rumble, a small rattle, and then the earth shook for what seemed like 30 seconds. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake, the strongest in Virginia since 1897, was felt from Georgia to Canada. This was such a thrilling, exciting, and frightening event because "we don't get earthquakes like this on the East Coast." The epicenter was located about thirty miles to the southwest near a very small town named Mineral in Louisa County. I understand that folks in California and elsewhere around the planet are laughing at us for our reactions, but we can deal with that.

It was the day before students were to report for school, and I was sitting at my desk and working on a Powerpoint presentation when things began to rumble. At first I (and others) thought that students were running down the hall, an activity that sometimes happens during inclement weather and the cross country team needs to practice (this didn't make sense since it was a bright, sunny day outside). When the rumble continued and worsened, I realized that this was actually an earthquake. Wow! So that's what one feels like! I counted it as an experience.

I poked my head out my classroom door and confirmed with others that what had just happened had been real. After making a few calls on my cell phone (Surprisingly I was able to get through to most of my destinations), I turned on the TV for news and sat back down to work. A short while later the principal came over the intercom and announced that school was to be closed and we had to leave the building. The structure needed to be checked for damages, so this move made sense.

The first day of school was canceled the next day because some buildings, including our own, had suffered light damage, mostly cosmetic, and needed to be reinspected and repaired. Teachers were allowed to report the next day, and since I still had work to do before the students arrived, I took advantage of this opportunity. The only disturbance to my classroom was a sun catcher nick-knack that had fallen out of the window and cracked. It IS a depiction of a Roman ruin after all, so just some character added to the image there. Some books that had been tilted to the right in my bookshelves were now leaning to the left. The most interesting devastation, though, shown in the photograph above, is the toppling of the Golden Bubo on the shelf next my desk. The trinket is the image of owl, the bird sacred to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The Romans would probably consider this an omen. Imagine it! The representation of wisdom falling on its face the day before the start of school! What to do? How to react? After contemplation, I've decided to take matters into my own hands and stand the statuette back on its foundation. This is an easy enough task, to be sure, but I have noticed that the image of the owl is top-heavy, with a supporting base smaller than it could be. After some contemplation, though, I think this is appropriate. The foundation of wisdom may be small, but the embodiment of wisdom is full and well wrought. How fitting that we are called upon from time to time to pick up our wisdom, dust it off, and put it back into place!

What is the outcome of all this excitement at the beginning of the school year? The normal butterflies experienced by this teacher (who, by the way, is entering his 25th year and still gets opening-day jitters) flitted away. The shaking of the earth, causing a fright to millions on the Eastern seaboard, puts everything into perspective. The ground may move, but the school remains and is safe. Come inside, boys and girls, and let's dust off some of our wisdom.

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