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Nature Gives Notice That None Are Exempt : We are reminded, sharply, of the need for community

January 23, 1994

The earthquakes of the previous week, from Monday morning's 6.6 killer through the many aftershocks, jolted all of us in Southern California in more ways than one. They underlined, with brutal and terrorizing efficiency, our mutual interdependence; they dramatized, as perhaps nothing else could, the philosophical, spiritual and practical folly of Balkanization.

Too often we live in little cubbyhole worlds and don't bother much about anyone or anything else. "I have mine and you have yours," we say, "and let nature take its course." Well, nature surely did take its course last week and said to all of us: "You are in this together and just in case you forgot, you are not in charge." That humbling message was part of last week's shock: For all our technology and sophistication, we are not in full control of our destiny. There are greater forces, and they are both more powerful than us and totally immune to reason.

California should be especially clear on this last point. This state in recent years has endured more than its share of disasters--a withering recession, high unemployment, a long drought, frightening urban riots, floods, wildfires . . . and now this. But, however terrible to experience, the Northridge earthquake should serve to raise our collective consciousness. The temblors that damaged yet-uncounted structures in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Inglewood and South Los Angeles did not discriminate on the basis of race, creed or sex. Pricey neighborhoods and more modest ones were hit equally.

The message was not just that we are all in this together but also that we are equally vulnerable. Therefore we need one another; need to work with one another and, most of all, must not forget these truths until the next disaster reminds us anew of our mutual humanity. The freeways that here and there came apart were the pathways of all our lives--to work, to home, to friends. We breathe the same air, drink the same water and stand on the common ground that nature sometimes moves underfoot.

A sense of that higher consciousness emerged last week as people reached out to help each other. It was so heartening to see the hands extended to thousands of hungry, homeless and hurting people by neighbors, government workers and good corporate citizens.

It was heartening to see the exhaustive, round-the-clock efforts by utility crews to restore basic services such as water, gas and electricity. It was moving to witness the caravans of donations from food companies, including 21,000 bagels, 73,000 dinner rolls and 100,000 tortillas. Shell Oil alone chipped in $250,000 worth of food, water and other supplies. One Riverside man came up with 4,300 bags of ice. The Anheuser-Busch Foundation offered 46,000 cases of drinking water, 7,000 loaves of bread and $1 million. Thus, after what happened last week, what can be the argument for separate worlds, for a lack of common interest? Were the week's events not a wake-up call for more community? Can we ever have too much of that?

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