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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : MAKING SENSE : 'You can make it through disaster.'

January 30, 1994|Jeremy Kagan | Kagan is a film director who lives in Venice.

My recollection is that I awoke just milliseconds before it happened. I threw myself onto my companion in some kind of overly protective way. I don't know whether it was a noble gesture or just a good diversion from facing my own mortality.

If you've got problems in your life, it's nice to have to worry about a natural disaster because then your own problems aren't so big anymore--or maybe it solves your problems. Good, I don't have to worry about the problem I'm having with work--I'm gonna be dead. Maybe that's a little bit overly escapist, but then again, I am in the business.

I'm a little bit earthquake prepared. So I got the flashlight and checked what was going on with the gas. Then I called my family--my wife and I are separated--to see how they had done and, luckily, that house, too, was spared. I talked to my daughter, who was scared and hasn't been able to contain that fear since. The most difficult part of this whole experience has been the aftershocks inside us. I think they are worse than the ones we're standing on.

The morning of the quake, for example, we went into a crowded delicatessen. A woman came over to order and I asked, "How you doin'?" She said: "Well, the truth is, what I really feel like doing right now is falling apart, but I'm not gonna do that." I felt everyone in there trying to pretend that it didn't happen, it wasn't going to happen again, and we could forget it and have our pastrami.

I sensed a combination of denial and shared fear, and also a kind of resiliancy which is a part of the American spirit, a sense of, "You can make it through disaster." There's also bizarre priorities, that the immediate gratification of certain needs and desires become paramount to a greater realization of where you are, what's going on in life in the bigger scheme.

I'm now off there trying to finish my movie. If an aftershock could destroy the editing room, then there wouldn't be a movie to finish. And it's interesting because the movie is about nature, power, control and how we fit into the bigger scheme. Maybe the point of all this is to remind us that we are these frail beings who will die and if we can gain a greater awareness of what death is, then I think it may make our lives easier to live.

One response I had was thinking about a higher power; that's certainly an arrogant but functional way of dealing with an uncontrollable problem. I'm also trying to put some kind of perspective on the issue of dying and understanding that it is part of all of our lives.

You know, there's a character I regard as the harbinger. When the fires happened, I looked out this window that looks out on a little patch of green. In the background were the burning mountains of Malibu. On the grass I saw an old man wearing a white cap, with a golf club, putting away. I've never seen him before, but I saw him as the mountains were burning in the distance. Monday, before sunset, as the earthquakes were still rattling and rolling, there was that man again--on the green, putting.

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