We live in Alaska where there are a lot of earthquakes. According to the Alaska Earthquake Center, we’ve had 404 in the past three days! And we’re due for “The Big One” as they’ve been saying for years. The 9.2-magnitude quake that hit Alaska in 1964 was highly destructive and the local fear is a repeat of those events.
On Tuesday, we had a 6.4 earthquake. Again, we’re used to earthquakes around here. We feel them frequently. But this one started small and rolling so we were deceived into thinking it wasn’t a big deal. Florin stood there and said “this isn’t a REAL earthquake!” Then it got bigger. She immediately stood paralyzed, screaming, and we had to coax her under the table. Penny was calm and collected and popped right under the table and covered her neck. Lui just sat there and laughed.
We have two elephants on our shelf we picked up in Cambodia shortly after we were married. In any earthquake over 5.0, one of the elephants falls over the shelf and shatters. Mr. T likes to find all the pieces and meticulously glue it back together every time. The other elephant has survived nearly six years of repeat earthquakes in Alaska. He never falls off the shelf and he doesn’t have a flaw on him.
Since Tuesday, I’ve reflected a lot on this earthquake. The first thing the earthquake reminded me was that relationships are the most important. The earthquake hit at dinnertime, so Mr. T was home from work and we were all gathered around the table. Florin had just finished, so she was standing, but the rest of us were still around the table. As we sat under the table during the violent shaking, I immediately thought “I am so grateful I can see the faces of everyone in my family.” My financial decisions should reflect the emphasis on my family. Family vacations are a priority for me because we leave our usual lives, work, friends, etc. and escape together as a family. On these vacations, it’s just us, together as a family. I hope early retirement will allow my family to have more of these experiences.
Are we ready for disaster? My next thought under the table was plotting what to do if this turned into “The Big One.” We’ll grab our 72-hour kit in the garage and a jug of water and load up the car. Did I ever fill up that water jug? I think the car is almost running on empty. I just updated the clothes in the 72-hour kit for the kids, but I don’t think I have my important documents gathered and ready. These are definitely things that have moved up my priority list this week. Am I financially prepared for my house caving in? I have earthquake insurance and an emergency fund. But is it enough? What if one of us died? Would we be okay financially to take care of our families?
My third thought during the earthquake was: Our stuff could literally kill us. The minimalist discussion is about how stuff ties us down. We give up our freedom by maintaining our stuff and putting our energy into our stuff instead of our own lives or relationships. But as the shelves started shaking, I realized that stuff not only ties us down, it could literally be what kills us. People die in earthquakes primarily because of stuff falling. We trap ourselves in our homes filled to the brim with dangerous projectiles. During that earthquake, the sentimental value of things was stripped away.
After it was all over, I thought about how everyone is different. Lui thought the whole situation was hilarious and it was a struggle to get him to come under the table. Florin was pretty confident about the whole thing until she wasn’t. And her fear paralyzed her. Penny was practiced and prepared and followed the plan without any hesitation. This is the reason why the best way to save for retirement is the way that work for you. We’re all different. The reactions of my children to the earthquake are perfect models of a few financial personalities. Maybe you’re a financial Lui. He’s going with the flow and even when disaster strikes, he doesn’t change course. A financial Florin would be someone that is confident about their current plan, but one financial bump in the road paralyzes them. With a little reminding, Florin can get back on track. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few that are financial Pennys. Maybe you’ve been maxing out your retirement funds since high school. Excellent work. We would all do well to follow your lead.
As I’ve looked at those elephants that are back on my shelf this week, I’ve realized it’s time to decide what’s worth fixing. I would never piece those elephants back together. I don’t have the patience and I don’t think they’re worth it. I just think “we can always buy another thing next time.” I still have a disposable mentality I need to change. But Mr. T finds every piece, lays them all out, and starts gluing. I think he does it because that elephant has become something bigger. It represents all the earthquakes we’ve survived as a family in Alaska. It represents Cambodia and the possibility of slow travel with our children. And at this point, it is Mr. T’s declaration that he doesn’t give up. He’s pieced it together so many times, he can’t let this be the one earthquake he doesn’t. If he did that, maybe everything else would fall apart.