Eye-Opening Moments Podcast

Escape from the Quake (and more)

October 17, 2023 Emily Kay Tan Episode 90
Eye-Opening Moments Podcast
Escape from the Quake (and more)
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Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. In this episode you will hear about Escape from the Quake and The Power of My Pen.

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Hello and welcome to episode #90 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Escape From the Quake and The Power of My Pen.

Escape From the Quake
It was October 17, 1989, and it was going to be just another day at work where I’d work until 5:00 PM and then go home. However, around 4:30 PM, my co-worker Jeannie stopped by my classroom. She said, “There you go again, Emily, always working late. Come on; I will give you a ride home.” Since I didn’t have a car, I welcomed a free ride home and grabbed my stack of student work that needed to be checked to bring home.

It was almost 4:55 PM when I got home. I checked my mailbox, got the mail, and ran upstairs to my apartment on the second floor. I sat at the kitchen table to look through the mail I had received that day. Suddenly, I felt as if my apartment was being pulled off the ground, but I looked and held on to my chair and was still on my chair. I had the strange sensation of being pulled up, but it did not appear to be the case. I felt like I slowly descended back into my seat, but I never left it. Soon I heard the sounds of helicopter blades swirling around outside. It sounded so nearby. What was happening outside?

I wasn’t sure what was happening because when I turned on the TV, it didn’t work. I turned on the radio, and it didn’t work, either. Next, I checked my landline phone, and it wasn’t working. I went outside to see what was the matter; nothing seemed to be amiss. I suppose it was an earthquake, but I wasn’t altogether sure because I had never experienced one.

Darkness came. Without light, I didn’t know what to do. Puzzled, I sat in darkness and eventually fell asleep. Early in the morning, I awoke and checked the TV and radio. Whew! It was working. On the news, I learned that it was indeed an earthquake. I saw images of fires and collapsed buildings near my school. I saw abandoned buses run by electricity through cables close to my workplace. The quake was recorded at 5:04 PM and lasted 20 seconds.

Twenty seconds sounded like a very short time, but when I was sitting on my chair in the kitchen, the sensation of being lifted up and then down seemed much longer. 

The time, 5:04 PM, lingered in my mind. If my co-worker Jeannie had not stopped by my classroom to offer me a ride home at 4:30 PM, I would still have been at school. I would have been close to the fires and collapsed buildings. I would not have been able to take the bus to get home. Walking home would be a long walk. I had never walked it, so I didn’t know how long it would take.

I later learned that the custodian at my school did get stuck. Her work required her to stay later as much cleaning was done after students left the school. 

After returning to school the following week, Ada gave us a first-hand account. She said our building was a couple of blocks away from the houses that caught on fire. She smelled the fire and had to remove her jacket to cover her nose and mouth from the fumes. Fortunately, our school was still in one piece short of a couple of cracks in the building. Unfortunately, Ada took two hours to walk home because the electric buses were not running. Cars in the neighborhood were scarce as the area was filled with fire trucks and ambulances. She couldn’t hitch a ride home and was left to walk home if she wanted to get home.

Had I left the school at my usual 5:00 PM time, I would have faced the same fate as Ada. She lived near me, so I would also have had to take two hours to get home. You could say it was not so bad because we came out alive. However, getting that close to a major natural disaster was no picnic. Going with no electricity reminded me of how much we depend on it and how we need to appreciate it for all it does for us. Shaken by the ground we live and walk on, I am glad I have a solid motionless foundation to walk on once more.

Not knowing when the earthquake would happen and where I could be at the moment of the quake is something to ponder. Because I left work earlier than usual, I escaped the hazards near my school. I would have been stuck like Ada if I had gone as usual. Maybe, I could have been walking near the buildings that caught on fire or collapsed, and I could have gotten injured. Who knows when we could be at the wrong place at the wrong time? And the results would drive us in a direction we never imagined.

I lived in San Francisco when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake happened. Though I was fortunate to have gotten home safely that day, it left me with much food for thought. Life could be so fragile. One wrong move could alter everything or change a person’s life. Natural disasters happen without notice. Will we survive or become a victim of them? Where would we be when they happen? Would we be alone or with loved ones? Would we die and be unfound or forgotten? Of course, we don’t have the answers. But I hope I remember again and again to appreciate whatever life I have left, make the best of it by doing more of what I enjoy, and fulfill on dreams sooner than later.

The Power of My Pen
I was the outcast; I was the different one. Grandma Sandy raised me, so I had a different set of values, culture, and language that I learned. It was different from my siblings who lived with Mom and Dad. Upon returning to my biological family at the age of fourteen, because Grandma Sandy thought it was a good idea, I found myself feeling like I didn't belong to the family I was born into.

I began writing in a diary to express my frustrations, troubling thoughts, and hurt feelings. The more I wrote, the more I discovered it became my companion, giving me comfort. Though I walked around quietly most of my days living with my family, I had a lot to say in my diary. It not only gave me comfort, but it also gave me joy to have a place to share my sorrows.

After two years of writing profusely in great detail in my diary, I stopped. I got busy with something new. I started writing to pen pals to maintain the Chinese language I learned from Grandma Sandy. Through a magazine, I got a list of many potential pen pals from countries far away from the USA. As it turned out, they became my new companions through writing. I wrote to them, and they all welcomed my letters by writing back to me. It was fun to share the little things or happenings in our lives.

Soon I had a pen pal from another state who wrote to me many times, and I started to notice. I thought it was odd because he was not from another country. He was an immigrant from Hong Kong. We wrote back and forth for about six months and got to know each other like friends. Before long, he asked to move our written communication to phone conversations. We began chatting and flirting on the phone for six months and fell in love. One year later, after the first time he wrote to me, we met in person, and I was dancing and floating in the clouds.

This relationship became a ten year on again off again relationship. We began as pen pals and became best friends and lovers for a long time. This relationship occupies a permanent seat in my heart. Though we are no longer together, he told me he kept the letters I wrote to him all those years ago when I was a teenager. I credit the power of my pen that brought us together and gave me the love of my life.

While traveling overseas to participate in a language program, I met Curtis. I did not talk much with him, nor was I interested in him. But because my new friend Alicia was interested in him and wanted to be near him, we were around him and his friends. After six weeks, the program was over, and before leaving, we all exchanged contact information. I did not think we'd remain in contact since I lived in America, and they all lived in Canada. 

Soon after the trip, Curtis started writing me every so often. I would reply as a matter of courtesy. After some time, it seemed we had feelings for each other. After a couple of years, Curtis informed me that he was moving to America and my town. I couldn't believe it! Did he keep in touch with me because he planned to attend graduate school where I lived? Did he choose the school in my town because I was there? Was it just a coincidence? I never dared to ask. 

Upon arrival, Curtis and I began dating. We were most attracted to each other. This relationship began with us writing letters to each other over several years. Kudos to the power of my pen that had us get connected!

Somewhere in midlife, I joined a network marketing business. You had to recruit people or hunt for that next sale to make money. If you didn't, your pockets would be empty. Try as I might to approach people in different ways to get a sale or a recruit, I'd get rejections most of the time. Then I partnered with other business partners to participate in job fairs to find recruits. They didn't see many that would show up at our office, but I did!

My partners asked me what I did to have so many show up in person. I shared with them that instead of calling the prospects, which I don't particularly like to do, I wrote a short email message to them. One partner decided to try that strategy, but it didn't work for him. Another partner chose to copy what I wrote precisely, and he ended up having almost as many prospects show up as I did! I give all the credit to the power of my mighty pen!

One day, I decided to join Toastmasters International because I love public speaking. Before each speech, I'd prepare by writing. Writing the stories made me feel good about myself; I could express some things stuck inside me. I was so proud to share it with my friend Stella. One story was about how I felt I didn't have a voice, and another was about how I found a way to finance my college education. To my surprise, as Stella read my words, she began to cry. She said she felt my pain and didn't know of my adversities. Her tears were for my pain and joy that I overcame. Her reaction told me the power of my pen. I give credit to the power of my pen.

In another instance, I wrote a story about how I met my dear friend, Ada, what we've shared, and what she means to me. I decided to write it and give it as a birthday present to her. It was two pages long. I do not know if my writing was good, but I knew I was speaking what I felt. I wrote it from my heart, so how could I go wrong? I told myself. With some hesitation, I finally presented my gift to Ada. She sat down to read it, and I watched her read it. Soon she was in tears and stood up to hug me tightly. It had to have been minutes before she let go of me. Nothing could have been more satisfying than knowing she heard my heartfelt words. I moved her; I was content to see the enormous power of my pen.

Sitting home relaxing, I got a call from a friend who said he read my story about walking to the bus stop and that he had tears rolling down in his mask and strangers sitting near him were wondering what was wrong. On another day, another friend told me she shared my story about walking to the bus stop with a friend all the way in Europe, and the story touched him. I couldn't believe two men, one I didn't know and one I barely knew, both got emotional about the personal essay I wrote as part of my memoir. I touched a few lives with the stroke of the mighty pen!

In my weekly text messages to some of my student's parents, I knew they would not be happy to hear how naughty their child was in school. However, I needed to inform them and hoped they would receive it to change their child's behavior for the next class. To make my statements light, I added an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. In one text message, I wrote: I reminded your child to focus and finish the written classwork many times, and he did not complete work today. I want him to improve in his studies. Please remind him once more! The simple exclamation point at the end lightened the load of seriousness. The parent responded positively and assured me she would talk to her child. The child behaved much better the next day. Similar results have occurred since adding the exclamation point! My warrior pen did the job with a few lines of words and an exclamation point!

As a writer, I wrote about my time with Grandma Betsy when she had terminal cancer. I recall her lying on the bed near the end of her life. However, she still seemed to have all her senses together and the strength between her weakness to tell me: "Don't mind them. Please don't pay attention to them not being nice to you or ignoring you like you are not important; you are important". She took my hand and said, "I need you; you matter." When Grandma Betsy said those words to me, I shrugged them off like, okay, sure, right. But the older me who recalls the scenario suddenly had an epiphany. Grandma Betsy was trying to tell me that I mattered and that I was important. She was telling me that I shouldn't allow anyone to make me feel like I don't matter or permit anyone to take away my importance. 

This breakthrough came about while I was writing my story about her. It was as if my pen became magical, and it wrote itself to have me discover the meaning of Grandma Betsy's message. The credit belongs to the power of my pen. 

My mighty pen comforted me during a dark time in my life and alleviated my loneliness. It then moved on to give me the love of my life. Later, it drew me to Curtis. Then in business, it helped me gain recruits. And in my teaching career, it helped me connect positively with many of my students’ parents. As a present, it moved my friend to tears. Sharing my stories with friends or strangers moved them, too. Most incredible, my pen even drove me to realize and discover more about myself, my adversities, encounters, and perspectives, which relate to and connect with others. Go, go, go! My Pen!

Key Takeaways: Though the quake could have injured me, I escaped and learned a lesson to appreciate all that I have, for anyone's life could be at risk from a natural disaster.
Though I never considered myself a writer, I discovered the mighty power of my pen to move, touch, and inspire others.

Next week, you will hear two new real-life stories called Quitting is Not Giving Up and Those Five Filthy Days. If you enjoyed this episode of Eye-Opening Moments, please share it with others, support the show by clicking on the link in the description, or go to www.inspiremereads.com and leave a message. Thank you for listening!








Escape from the Quake
The Power of My Pen
Key Takeaways