I was in that riding grocery cart (in the white circle) in a Food Lion store in Louisa, VA – approximately 4-5 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. A little background as to how I, a residence of Delmar NY, happened to be in Louisa VA at that moment. I was on vacation with my sister and her family on Lake Anna near Mineral VA. Who had ever heard of Mineral VA before Tuesday, 8/23/2011?? I am FROM Virginia and I had never heard of it. I knew of Louisa but had never been there. On Tuesday, I had to find a post office to mail the wedding license for a ceremony I had conducted on Saturday and we needed a few groceries so I took off with my nephew’s teen-aged son, Ben, and his friend Oscar for the closest grocery store (as it ended up, I went further than I needed to for a grocery store but I didn’t know it at the time). We found the post office in Louisa, visited the Walgreens store (which seems to be Ben’s most favorite store in the whole world!! Go figure!), bypassed the Hardee’s for the moment (which turned out to be a huge mistake for me since I haven’t had a Peach milk shake since the many daily trips to St Mary’s Hospital in Richmond when Dad was so sick 6 months before he died), and headed for the Food Lion.

Since my knees are really painful at this point, I grabbed a riding cart, the boys took off for more interesting places than dairy products, and I started my search for the few items on my list. I hadn’t found any of them so I cruised up the soda aisle to grab a Diet Coke (what else?) and saw a store employee so I had stopped to ask her where to find Bagel Chips when there was a huge noise that sounded like an explosion, the floor and shelves started shaking violently, soft drinks in 2-liter bottles and six-packs of cans and bottles started falling and flying off the shelves, exploding as they hit the floor, my cart began to move around – not enough to be terribly hazardous but enough to scare the h— out of me! – and the woman I was speaking to looked at me like I had three heads when I asked her, “Do you have earthquakes in Louisa?” After the shaking stopped and the flying sodas were spewing their contents all over the floor around me, I figured it was time to get moving – as I got out of the cart my brain finally kicked into real time again and I began yelling for Ben. I was trying to run down the aisle but heard a voice yelling, “Lady, be careful!”  The caution that has become second nature for me since I first injured my knee in 1964 kicked in and I realized suddenly that I was moving way too quickly through a foaming, slippery sea of soft drink and that this was the kind of situation that usually ended up with me on the floor! BUT I didn’t know where Ben and Oscar were and that trumped everything else so I kept moving, yelling “Ben!” at least five times before I reached the end of the aisle and heard his sweet voice calling for me with as much panic in his voice as I was feeling, “Aunt Susan!”

We finally met up and the last time I felt such relief was when I found Scott after losing him in a mall many years ago.  I was trying to decide what to do – after all, I had left home with a mission – to get groceries. A woman was rubbing her ankle where she had been hit by a flying can of peas or something, a man in a Coca-Cola shirt was taking pictures with his phone camera AND, as it turns out Oscar was also taking pictures, but I just wanted to get us to safety. As we started moving towards the door, Ben said excitedly, “Aunt Susan, you gotta see this – come on!” He took off toward another aisle and I was in such shock that I followed him without even thinking. As we got about half-way down the aisle, he turned and said, “You gotta see this huge crack in the floor – it just opened up…” I didn’t need to hear any more – my good sense finally kicked in and I said, “Ben, I don’t want to see a crack in the floor – I want to get out of here” and we turned and headed for the door.

People all around us were either just standing in a dazed state of inaction or talking on a cell phone. In fact, almost every person we could see had a cell phone in their hands and were either punching in numbers furiously or talking anxiously to someone on the other end. We finally got outside and while I felt another huge sense of relief to be out of that building that didn’t feel like a really safe place to be, that was when I really began to shake. The adrenalin kicked in with a vengeance and I could tell the boys were having the same experience. We headed for the car and as we drove away, we decided that we needed COMFORT FOOD so we pulled into Hardees only to find out that they were not operational – of course – doh! – and I had missed my Peach milkshake! We took off for Mineral where we did find an open store with cherry topping all over the floor but ice cream waiting in the cooler. So we got our cones, decided that groceries could wait, and headed for the house. I missed a turn and we ended up on some road which took us about 10 minutes to realize wasn’t the right one. Ben fired up my phone GPS and we discovered that we had gone 5 miles in the wrong direction. 45 minutes later, we finally found the house and were greeted with hugs and stories of pictures falling off the walls and stuff flying off the mantelpiece while the house felt like it was coming apart. Everybody had a tale to tell and it took some time before we could get the word out to family from Woodbridge VA to Delmar NY that we were all safe. The internet and cell phone networks were jammed and we found that the most available vehicle for communication was facebook.

We have had many conversations and experienced several aftershocks – a really hard one in the middle of last night – and I have been reminded of a conference Mom and I attended many years ago where the keynote speaker was the Bishop of California. He had just lived through the SF quake (when the double-decker interstate collapsed) and he shared with us his “earthquake theology.” It all came back to me – it goes like this: God made the earth with its overlapping plates that would shift whenever necessary to relieve pressure within the planet. These “natural” occurrences have been happening since day one, just as God intended. Humanity, in all its wisdom, has for the most part decided to either ignore the hazards of certain spots on the globe where these plates overlap causing “faults” (aptly named but not strong enough I guess to ward off our need to build what and where we want) or that we are somehow going to be immune to such dangers. We have built homes at the top of seaside slopes, skyscrapers on unstable property, and all sorts of structures way too close to those fault lines. We have built and built and then wondered why God would let such awful damage and loss of life occur as earthquakes destroyed our man-made treasures. Bishop Swing ‘s theology had 2 main points:

  1. God does not “cause” earthquakes – they happen as a natural consequence of the way the earth is made. He said, “Since God loves us more than anything, it’s obvious that God never intended these “faults” to cause us harm. I guess God gave us more credit than we deserve since we didn’t use the gift of reason in such a way that would keep us away from the faults where we might be safe.”
  2. God allows us to build our lives with the free will given us after creation – this means we are free to build our structures wherever we want just as we are free to build our lives in whatever environments we choose, according to whatever moral laws we choose to follow, and with whatever belief and faith system we choose to guide us.

So, he said, “Whenever I feel the tremors of an earthquake, I now think, ‘Go God!’ because I realize that it is God’s way of saving our world once again from its natural pressure cooker. And when I see the images of destruction all over the area, I now think, ‘Look, God, we’ve done it again’ and I pray that God will bless those who have been injured or killed as a result of our stubborn need to do our own thing and give us the grace and wisdom to look at the rubble of our modern civilization and find a new place to re-build.” I remember thinking how weird our world would look with huge empty spaces where these faults are located and my first thought was, “How could we ever avoid them all?” I also thought of the hardship for many people whose livelihoods are centered around places like San Francisco and other centers of commerce and what many people call “easy living.” But, when you look at just that one area and all of the pain and loss that has resulted from earthquakes, it seems that inconvenience is a small price to pay if such destruction can be avoided.

Anyway, I remember Bishop Swing with his serious theological argument for what he called “living with God’s earthquakes.” He went on in his keynote speech, which was entitled “Earthquakes and Church-quakes” to call for the Church to heed the same call to caution and diligence in building our public faith on what he called the ‘faith-faults’ of our materialistic society and a mis-guided organized religion. It was an amazing conference as we all got a glimpse into a new way of thinking about God’s world and the church. It has been good to recall all of that and to remember, as I sat there listening to him, that I had no idea what it was like to live through an earthquake of any size. Now I do and his “Earthquake Theology” has taken on new meaning for me. I have always believed that God’s world is of such divine design that I cannot even come close to comprehending why things happen as they do. I consistently tell my sweet flock in White Creek NY that some things are “God things” and we’re not supposed to know those things but accept them on faith and wait for the “big day” when we can ask God in person, “What the … was that about?”

So I don’t know if this “biggest earthquake on the East coast in 114 years” is a message or just a natural occurrence or maybe it’s both. Only God knows. But this I do know – I’m grateful to be sitting here with my computer on my lap writing about the “earthquake of the century.” For some reason, I was there, I survived, and I thank God for it all. Now, for those who know my family, you will be interested in slipping over to my Facebook page to see my great-nephew Ben and his friend Oscar being interviewed by multiple news crews – all of which ended up on the cutting room floor. But I am here to tell you – they were super!! Very grown-up, very polite, and very disappointed to miss their 15 seconds of fame. So go check them out!


Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is now available on  Register below to receive our newsletter and important emails. Don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at


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