It’s easy to take earthquakes for granted when you live in California.
If I’m sitting quietly in my home office, I’ll feel a little jolt once or twice a week. It catches my attention, but I go right back to what I was doing. Sometimes it’s big enough to rattle the windows, and I’m more engaged.
But when a big one hits, it changes everything.
Most people were asleep at 4:31 AM on January 17, 1994. That’s when the “big one” hit in Northridge, California. It lasted 20 seconds, and nobody slept through it.
I know I didn’t.
Freeways collapsed. Buildings crumbled. Almost 60 people died. Hundreds were injured. Adrenaline flowed like a river.
And then the lights went out.
Massive power outages took place throughout Los Angeles. In the predawn hours, major sections of the city were powerless. People scrambled in the confusion and rubble, trying to find flashlights and candles.
Outside, there were no streetlights, no signals, no neon signs.
It was just . . . dark.
Later that day when the sun rose and the power gradually returned, the Griffith Park Observatory began receiving dozens of calls from people who had seen a huge, silver cloud floating over the city. Some feared it was related to aliens, while most simply wondered if the earthquake had somehow impacted the atmosphere. As the sun rose, the cloud dissipated.
After hearing similar descriptions from callers, the observatory staff finally realized what the cloud was – what the people had actually seen.
It was the Milky Way.
People who had lived in the distraction of city lights for decades saw stars and constellations they had never seen before. Those stars had always been there, but the lights overpowered their view of the galaxies.
The darker the night, the easier it is to see the stars.
As a child, our family used to drive across the Arizona desert in the middle of night to escape the heat. I would lay in the back of our station wagon and look at the stars out the back window. I remember wondering why there were so many more stars in the desert than in the city.
The stars are always there. But when the lights are bright, we can live under them for years and never notice them. It takes our world being shaken and the lights going out for us to really see.
For me, it’s a reminder that we’re surrounded by wonder. But our lives are so filled with trivia and schedules and shiny objects that we forget that it exists.
Nobody likes dark times in life. But if you’re in one, look up.
Some things can only be seen in the darkest of nights.
That’s where we see the wonder.
Take a break.
Take a breath.
Get perspective. Listen to someone deeply. Remember the things that matter most. Tell someone you care.
Look for the silver cloud.