The room vibrated with a force both subtle and profound. I first noticed the sensation coming from my chair and turned to see if someone was shaking it. Nobody was there. Then I saw that the desk was shuddering as well, and so was the picture of Gandhi hanging on the wall, and so was the wall itself. The ground was moving slightly but rapidly below the room, below the entire city of Jodhpur. An earthquake.
The quake’s epicenter was about one thousand miles away, near the Iran-Pakistan border, where it registered 7.8 on the Richter scale. In the surrounding villages, mud houses collapsed and crushed dozens of people, leaving over 30 dead and many more injured. It could have been much worse, as far as earthquakes go, but any large-scale of life and health is a tragedy and should not be dismissed through comparison. As the shock traveled further from its origins, it lost strength, and by the time it reached Jodhpur, it hardly constituted a minor disturbance. I felt only the dull remnants, the reverberations of a distant catastrophe.
Earlier that day, I had been reading of explosions in my hometown. Bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, injuring bystanders, and destroying brave legs that had just run nearly 26.2 miles. Right away, I called loved ones to make sure they were okay. The incident dominated my email inbox and Facebook feed, my primary connections to many people I cared about. I found myself glued to the news, ostensibly waiting for the latest developments but really seeking an answer to the unanswerable question of why. My thoughts were with the city where I grew up.
A few days later, as Boston locked itself down in search of a suspect, I discovered that a mouse had taken up residence in my suitcase, the same bag that had held all of my possessions when I made the journey to India over nine months earlier. I released the mouse into a field across the street, but she left behind three newborn babies, wriggling masses barely identifiable as rodents. I picked them up between my fingers and put them into a plastic container with some cookie crumbs and popcorn kernels. They had no hair, only translucent skin red from the warm blood underneath. I could see the beating of their hearts and the inflation of their lungs; I watched their tiny hands grasp for a mother who would never return. When I checked on them yesterday morning, their red color had drained to a pale white. I tossed the whole container into the trash.
Life is fragile and vulnerable, and it can end in an instant.