Your Life is More Important: Lessons from the Quakes that Can Be Applied to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Some of the people I know in my life are sharing memes and airing their grievances about shut-downs and restrictions going on in their area due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the 22 February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, The Place Where I Work was hit hard. The earthquake and aftershocks did a good amount of damage, and we were lucky to be in a building previously occupied by the regional Police headquarters, where engineers had strengthened it to withstand a strong 8+ magnitude earthquake. That wasn’t the problem; it was Government agencies’ responses, mainly the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and their responses, that caused us the most grief.

The flouted their rules, and regulations, and the law, and everything in-between. Believe you me, we let them know that. And, if we had had a bit more money, and their actions hadn’t basically decimated the Christchurch tertiary education landscape — at the time, the second largest tertiary education hub in New Zealand — the NZQA would have been sued so hard and so deep they’d be blasted back in time 200 years by all the setbacks. But their actions put a good number of tertiary educational organisations out of operations permanently, and it was a very overbearing response to an already tragic event.

We forged ahead. We started back teaching in our damaged but safe and confirmed-habitable campus. There was no way we would have taught in the building otherwise, but the floor was on a slant here, the wall had a gap you could stick your fingers in there, and so on. It was a difficult time, dealing with aftershocks and cracks in the walls growing and uncertainty hanging over our heads.

There was a large earthquake on 13 June 2011. My husband (and one of the owners of The Place Where I Work) told us all go to home. And luckily we did.

A larger, stronger quake hit not too much longer after that. Our building had some of its heavy decorative concrete panels collapse in the quake. The main core building itself wasn’t damaged, but the structure could be significantly damaged, or be ripped apart completely, in another large earthquake.

The building next to ours, of the same design but without the earthquake engineering ours had undergone, had the front collapse. Pipes had burst inside, and the main staircase became a waterfall.

Our building was condemned. We lost about 95% of all the contents of our then-25-year-old business.

We were determined. We saw this as an opportunity to rebuild in the face of adversity, and to come back bigger, better, and stronger than before. All the things we saw wrong in ourselves pre-quakes we tried to correct post-quakes.

It did work. Our determination paid off.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a different set of challenges, yes, but those of us who were on the team during the earthquakes knew we could rise to this challenge again. Sure, it would take creative thinking and some lateral solutions to the problems that presented themselves, but we could and would do it.

And we did.

My friends and family in the States? I don’t think a lot of them have gone through that type of large scale disaster where one has to face the overwhelming task of navigating the business through the hard times and adapting the business to come out the other end a better, stronger place than it once was. To be honest, quite a few businesses here didn’t manage to do that during the quakes, and many others didn’t managed to do it through the lockdown for the pandemic.

Here’s the real story though: our safety, our health, our well-being, and our lives are far more important than our jobs and our businesses.

Sure, it’s not ideal. Sure, a lot of hard work went into the success and continuation of the place. Sure, maybe even it’s a generational thing in your family.

But your life is far more important in the long run.

You can’t take money with you. And once you’re dead, well… you’re dead. People will be very sad, upset, and they will miss you immensely.

Tonight, on the New Zealand news, there was a younger man whose family runs a well known seafood caravan / trailer on the side of the highway near a place called Kaikoura, north of Christchurch along the coast, nestled in North Canterbury. He is the third generation of his family to run the stall, and he now is the main manager of the place.

Back in November 2016, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit near Kaikoura, and much of the main highway was blocked by landslides.

This man and his business survived. Things were just coming right when the pandemic hit, the lockdown happened, and the place seemingly was back at square one.

Tonight, on the news? He was pragmatic about it. His attitude was, “We made it before and we will make it again. We need to roll with the punches and make this work.”

In the States, some of the people I know who own their own small business too are doing nothing but attacking the governor of their state, the local authorities, the federal authorities, making it sound like the pandemic is one large conspiracy against small businesses throughout the United States of America.

It’s not. The authorities who are initiating and maintaining the lockdown are doing that because they have your health and well-being at heart.

There’s no grand conspiracy. No one is trying to get rid of small businesses. The Democrats and the Chinese are not creating a worldwide conspiracy to get rid of Donald Trump.

There’s a pandemic. There’s a very deadly pandemic, which merely and very virulently spreads by speaking, breathing, sneezing, or coughing in the general direction of another person, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, that is making a good chunk of the population sick and killing a significant portion of those who do get sick.

It could be worse. Hard to believe in a place like America where the response has been poor, and by the time I am writing this, 1.54 million Americans are infected, nearly 91,000 have died, and tens of millions are unemployed, that things could be worse. But they could be, even though America is leading the world in COVID-19 infections and deaths.

To those whose businesses are teetering on the brink or close to failure because of this virus: if you can adapt, adapt. If you are scared, it’s okay to be scared. If your business fails, it fails in a 1-in-a-100-year pandemic, the likes of which the world has not seen in all of our lifetimes. If your business fails, you still have your life, and your health, and the will to fight on in some other way.

Right now? Right now it’s important to stay safe, stay home, stay well, and be kind.

Everything else can be replaced, or made better, or brings a new opportunity to your life.

Your life? You’ve only got one shot at that.

Be safe, stay home, be well, and be kind. Love your bubble.