Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Life is short: Lessons from the Chilean Quake

Sometimes you just feel it. All day long before the quake hit, I felt something coming. Of course, I didn’t act on it or stow myself away in a bomb shelter. I just laid my head down for the night in my 12-story apartment complex.

Sure enough, as I began to dream, the bed began to shake – slowly at first, but more violent by the second. I jumped up and ran out of the room. My host-mother let out a scream. I decided I should go out on the balcony, that it might be safer. But there were nine more concrete balconies above ours so that seemed like a bad idea. I ran back in and yelled for my host-family. Meanwhile, the shaking began to get more powerful. I could tell it was a big one. I ran back to the balcony and looked over the edge. It was a pretty far drop, but I wanted more than anything to be out of that building. The whole damn city was shaking. I climbed onto the ledge. The streetlights were bursting. Car alarms were sounding. I looked up at my building and it was just swaying away. It was about to fall. On the rumbling ledge I wondered, is it better to jump all that ways (40 feet) or get my face squished under nine floors of concrete? A long ways down… but better sorry than dead, I always say. So I jumped.

Obviously, I’m not very well trained in earthquake procedures. Doesn’t everyone jump off the balcony? I don’t remember what it was like falling. But I sure as hell remember what it was like hitting the ground. It hurt about 250 times more than I was expecting it too. I cried out in anguish, still too close to the shuttering building. I rolled away from it until the earth stood still. I was pretty sure I had broken my back. When I arrived at the hospital, I had a lot of company. It was 4:20 AM and everyone was aching and groaning. Amidst all the suffering I began to reflect. I thought of how the Chilean police force is shooting the Mapuche people down during their peaceful protests. I though of Israel and the Arab states. I thought of how I had not yet forgiven my friend for what she did to me. I thought of all the wars in the world, big and small. They seemed so pathetic. I looked across to a woman who was also in a stretcher. She was having a really, really hard time. I felt so much love for her and I was so happy to be alive. The chorus of an old Beatles song climbed up inside me and I sang it out, “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.”

Turns out I didn’t break my back, just fractured it. I also got a few bonus fractures in the pelvis. Won’t be walking for a while. As I write, I’m in a hospital bed. All day long the room shakes with the aftershocks. I am at the mercy of plate tectonics and I feel more alive than ever. I’d like to say to all of you that life is very short. Live it. Take a look at what you are studying; make sure it’s what you love. Take time to forgive and move on to more important things. You never know what day will be your last. For God’s sake, don’t spend this beautiful and sacred life arguing with others. Spend this time wisely. Spend it joyously and-at the risk of sounding like a starry-eyed hippie – love your brothers and sisters. There’s not much time left to do it. I love you all. Big shout out to all my homies on the fizzy. Please know I am in very good hands.

-Lyla Johnston ’11, Student with Bing Overseas Program in Santiago, Chile

  • Reader


    No, really? Jump off a balcony was the best you came up with?

    BOSP should do a better job of orienting students to stuff like this.

  • Aidan Dunn

    Lyla, girl, I thought you were crazy when I heard this. I was out in the campo for the quake. But now that I’m back in Santiago, experiencing the strong aftershocks in a big concrete building, I completely understand your desire to get as far away from it as possible! Much scarier in the concrete jungle…I would not want to die this way. Sending you love and prayers for healing!

  • Reader

    What were you thinking?

  • Ace

    What happened to your Host Family???!!!

    Glad you are mending — when you return to the States why not take some courses on Emergency management — you will know what to do and you will be able to help others in similar situations.

    I think EVEYRONE regardless of age, needs to take a course in Emergency Management and How To prepare for and Survive a Disaster (which could be anything from an earthquake, to a hurricane, to a blizzard to a toxic spill).