Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My surprising reaction to photos of the earthquake in Chile March 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:09 AM

THE WORLD SEEMS SMALLER every day, especially during catastrophic natural disasters like the recent Haitian and Chilean earthquakes. Communications take us instantly into the destruction, touching our hearts, moving us to tears and action.

This time the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile brings thoughts of my daughter Miranda, who a year ago arrived home from Argentina, Chile’s neighbor to the east.

Sunday afternoon I phone Miranda, who is finishing her Spanish degree at a Wisconsin college with hopes of returning to Argentina in a few months. I catch up on her studies and then our talk turns to the earthquake.

Residents near Tucumán in northern Argentina, where she spent about six weeks doing mission work, felt the tremors, she tells me. But Buenos Aires, where she lived for most of her six months abroad, was too distant to feel the earth moving, she reassures me.

Still, no matter the distance from Chile, we are all affected in some way.

Later, when I go online and view The Christian Science Monitor photos of the destruction in Chile—specifically images of fallen bridges, buckling roadways and mangled cars—I flash back to the August 1, 2007, collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

This instantaneous reaction surprises me.

The similarity between those roadway earthquake photos and my memory of the Minnesota bridge collapse images strikes me like a blow to the chest.

I wonder, do other Minnesotans feel that same sense of familiarity when they view the earthquake photos of fallen bridges, heaved pavement and crushed cars? Do they relive again the terror of that summer day in Minnesota upon seeing a photo of an injured Chilean lying in the bed of a pick-up truck?

While comparing the two disasters may seem like comparing apples to oranges, I cannot help my initial reaction. My thoughts turn then to Garrett Ebling, a former Faribault newspaper editor who was among those most seriously injured in the 35W bridge collapse. I interviewed Garrett shortly after the collapse for a feature story published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

I wonder how he’s doing.

But mostly, today, I wonder how the people of Chile are doing? Will they, like Garrett, overcome the tragedy that has forever changed their lives? Will they, like Garrett, strive for the positive?

Garrett told me in our 2007 interview: “Sir Edmund Hilary—the first person to climb Mount Everest—once said ‘It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.’ When this is all said and done, I will be standing—STANDING—at the top of the mountain.

But I will not have conquered the bridge. Rather, I will have bested the uncomfortability, the uncertainty, the pain. I will have realized from which the depths I can rise up.

It’s the top of the mountain that puts us closest to heaven.”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling