09-19-1985

Tonatiuh Ollin

A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto- spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this soul has actualised the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts> states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul. But its living existence, that sequence of great epochs which define and display the stages of fulfilment, is an inner passionate struggle to maintain the Idea against the powers of Chaos without and the unconscious muttering deep-down within.

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

Ours is not a kind mother, and her lessons are often harsh yet not cruel. They are only cruel when nothing is learned from them, when they are left meaningless; that is our doing, not hers.

My personal memories of September 19th 1985 are blissfully devoid of drama, though they still are part of my psychological baggage —a curious development, considering how hard it is for me to retain moments of my past— It was early in the morning, and I was preparing to go to school; I was brushing my teeth after breakfast, when suddenly my sister Verónica's voice came across the wooden French doors that separated the toilet from the basin:

"Hey, it's trembling!", she said with a startling voice.
"Not it's not" I replied, fearing she was trying to make fun of me or something.

And then I felt it too. Even at that young age I wasn't a strange to the occasional brief, mellow earthquake that rocked the chandeliers or made the water on the vases swing. But this was different; this was way stronger. And it kept going... and going...

At that moment I did what many 12-year-olds would probably do: run downstairs to the kitchen & seek my mom. Her face was nervous and that obviously scared ME even more. We remained embraced for what seemed an eternity, until it finally ended.

I think I stayed longer and went with my mom upstairs to my parents' bedroom to turn the TV & check the news. We wanted to see if this tremor have been felt in other parts of the city —my parents' home is located in the norther suburban section close to Ciudad Satélite, in the state of Mexico— and at that time the news anchors were nervous but giggling, with fixed smiles and eager to continue with the normal schedule.

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I went walking to school, and obviously the first thing the children were asking among themselves was "did you feel the tremor?". As the hours progressed, though, it became clear that something completely out of the ordinary had happened.

See video

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The images that we were seeing on our TV sets were like something out of a war film. "The Day After" —a fictional story that intended to recreate the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust— had just been released a few years earlier, and now there were these scenes that looked A LOT like the ones in that movie. Only this wasn't New York or San Francisco or any of the movies that always got destroyed in Hollywood blockbusters; these were scenes from places I knew; the people that were shown crying and shouting didn't speak English, they were crying in Spanish.

It was like living the end of the world. And I was one of the lucky ones that only experienced it second-hand. Many others were not so lucky...

(Click here for a photo gallery)

It will probably never be known just how many people died during the first earthquake and the chaos that ensued. The most conservative figures say around 10,000. The real figure is probably much higher.

For the ones who lived it in the flesh, there's the hypersensitivity developed as an aftermath; any unusual tremor is monitored with a sense of dread, even if it's felt in the middle of the night —you may not get out of bed or even open your eyes, but part of your brain is still carefully counting the seconds it lasts.

There's also the inevitable esoteric interpretations, trying to link the catastrophe with the Aztec legends related to destruction cycles. According to these myths, we're now living under the 5th sun; and as previous humanities were destroyed by different natural events —winds, rains of fire, floods, etc— so to this last batch of the human race will perish after the end of Tonatiuh (Sun) Ollin. This last word, which means movement, has often been interpreted as "earth movement" or "earthquake", a natural conclusion considering the highly seismic nature of Mexico city's geology —which was erected just on top of the mighty capital of the Aztec warlords.

The very symbol of Ollin has a strong resemblance to the Asian symbol of the Ying and Yang. One could therefore conclude that the destruction of the 5th sun's mankind would not be the result of a divine punishment, but merely a natural "return of balance", much needed after a lapse of stagnation. The universe in constant search of equilibrium between opposing forces.

But is that all 19-09-85 has to teach us? To be prepared when the plates get in berzerker mode and build better buildings? I don't think so. For you see, it is my opinion that Ollin could be referring to another kind of movement: a social movement.

In the modern history of Mexico, there are 2 dates that bear a special prominence and that are intertwined in a very subtle way: The first one is Oct 2nd 1968, which is remembered in infamy for the killing of students at the Tlatelolco square; and the 2nd one was 25 years ago. These two dates are linked because they constitute the 2 most important triggers that allowed Mexico to finally reach a democratic system —the first one, through public outrage at the massacre perpetrated by the high echelons of power; the second one, at the pure instinctive necessity to bypass the stupefied government's response to the tragedy, and develop a bottom-up rescue effort.

In the days and weeks after the quake, I witnessed something completely novel in the atmosphere: a sense of solidarity. Everybody wanted to participate with what little they could; those who due to their jobs or daily chores weren't part of the many rescue brigades, were nonetheless more than willing to assist in the transporting of medicines and first-aid kits.

I remember that my own dad allowed my sisters and I to accompany him a few times, when he used his car to take bottled water and other necessities to one of the many gathering centers sprawled all over the city. It was something else to see middle-class men in business suits hurrying tot he areas where the radio indicated help was needed; usually when they arrived they were asked to go somewhere else because 10 or 20 people had beaten them —and they were glad to go!

It is my belief that this horrible event shook more than the earth and the buildings. It shook the complacency of the Mexican people; it jolted us out of our stupor and forced us to have a hard look all around us. It forced us to see our neighbors and the strangers we'd never met as part of a larger family, each horrid tragedy and tale of miraculous rescue & heroic risk as something that could be happening to us. We began to understood that we were all connected, and this connection held a great untapped potential.

And I also think a nagging realization began to appear in the back of most people —particularly the younger generations: "you know, those assholes in the government are a bunch of good-for-nothings! why do we put up with them?!"

Granted, this was a slow awakening and the first real changes toward democracy didn't happen overnight. But just as the teluric energy slowly builds up between the geologic plates, so to the yearning for social activism begins to be stored in the spirit of a nation; until the time comes when all the energy find its way out.

It would be completely naive of to declare that Mexico has become a truly democratic nation, with citizens eager to participate in social activism for the greater good. Turns out that democracy in its most basic form —free elections— is not a magical machine that can solve by itself centuries-old problems or automatically discards "rotten gears". And by no means the Mexican youth has been impervious to the general apathy that affects the Twitter generation all around the global village.

And yet the lesson of 19-09-1985 should never be forgotten: A state of stagnation will always provoke a natural return to balance; and this return can be either gentle... or it can be violent.

But even at the worst catastrophes we can fathom —be those natural or man-made— it's always up to us to either fall in despair for what's lost, or accept the fact that everything is in perpetual motion, the fate of all things is change, and transmute the negative energy into something positive.

If we do the latter, then the destruction of the old world can lead to the construction of a better one, and we will all enjoy it under the shining face of the 6th sun.

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