It was bound to happen.

My first earthquake experience in southern California occurred yesterday in the wee morning hours. Two o’clock in the morning to be exact, as I was snuggly tucked in my own comfortable bed, dreaming peacefully of warm sunshine, palm trees, and languid sunset strolls on the sand.

As many of you know, I’ve spent a lot of time on those Santa Monica beaches these past two years. Odds were growing that The Big One would eventually hit during one of my periodic visits. I fully understood the risks, but I still always dreaded the exact moment when nature would finally snuff me out.

Fortunately for me, this wasn’t The Big One. In fact, this one barely rated a mention on the LA morning news. The rattling only registered 4.2 on the Richter scale with a couple of milder aftershocks thrown in for good measure. The epicenter, however, was disturbingly close to my location—just a scant 16 kilometers south of Malibu Beach.

As close as it was to my neighborhood, there were fortunately no injuries with this quake, no reports of significant damage, no breakout fires, and no resulting tsunami warnings.

For comparison sake, the 1994 Northridge Earthquake registered a magnitude of 6.7, killed 72 people and caused more than $20 billion in damage. If that weren’t scary enough, the strongest quake ever recorded in California history occurred on January 9, 1857, around Fort Tejon, just north of Los Angeles. That one measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and ruptured about 225 miles of real estate along the infamous San Andreas Fault.

Still, my own “minor” earthquake experience left me a bit skittish and unsettled. We’re all familiar with being jolted out of a sound slumber in the middle of the night. You know the feeling. It’s pitch black. You’re disoriented, and your brain refuses to function properly—as if stuck in limbo between the primal stages of semi consciousness and partial cognizance.

Initially, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. To be honest, I thought my dog, Bingo, was running zoomies underneath my bedframe. When it dawned on me that Bingo was still thousands of miles back in Kentucky, that was when I knew something bad was up.

By now, I’m finally thinking “EARTHQUAKE”! My initial reaction was to get out of bed and run outside. You see, I’m on the bottom floor of a five-story condo. The last thing I wanted was to be pancaked by the floors above and buried in the ensuing rubble. I’d gladly take my chances with flying debris and burning gas lines as I made my heroic escape.

(By the way, I’ve since learned that the experts strongly advise against making these types of instinctive moves. You’re much more likely to be killed or severely injured by a dislodged potted plant or errant wine bottle to the head. It’s best to stay put, to take cover under sturdy furniture, and find creative ways to protect your vital organs.)

Before I could scramble toward my front door exit, however, the shaking suddenly dissipated. Twenty seconds later, it was all quiet on the western front. My adrenaline was still pumping, though. Try as I might, there would be no sleep for me the rest of the night. I had somehow cheated death and felt obligated to tell all about how I miraculously escaped the clutches of the Grim Reaper.

Okay, I’ll admit I’m embellishing a bit. I never thought I would actually croak, nor did anybody I talked to the next morning. In fact, most of the patrons at the morning Farmer’s Market weren’t fazed in the least by the overnight rumblings. They’d gotten used to these occasional disruptions of their rhythmic lifestyles. They’d all become fatalistic, foreboding, and furtive in how they lived their lives.

I’m hoping I don’t ever become like them. As I’ve gotten a bit older, I find myself thinking a lot more about death. Not in a morbid way, mind you. But rather in the context of savoring life’s blessings. I’m telling you, life is short. Every part of it is worth savoring in some manner or other.

The reality is that we can’t cheat death. We’re all eventually going to die from something. Either cancer or a bad heart is going to get us. Or perhaps we’ll meet a grisly demise in an auto accident, airplane crash, or a steamy crime of passion. Maybe an earthquake or some sort of natural disaster will eventually spell our doom.

The truth is, we don’t know how we’ll eventually go, so you better live it up while you can. There’s nothing like a near-death experience—perceived or real—to help us appreciate our blessed and charmed lives here on earth. Regardless of circumstances, I want to encourage each and every one of you to savor the moment, to smell the flowers, and to cherish the moments together with friends and family.

Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today. Go ahead—travel the world if you’re so inclined. Order the lobster. Dance like no one cares (which—by the way—they don’t).

Live with no regrets. After all, you never know when THE BIG ONE might hit.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a freelance sports journalist covering the Kentucky Wildcats and Cincinnati Bengals. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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