Sunday, November 24, 2013

Disaster Zone Ahead

I read a quote recently that said, “You can never be too far away from a disaster because there is no disaster-free zone in this entire universe.” I also stumbled upon the following words: “You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” It got me thinking about times when things have happened in my life that I just have to step back and laugh about. No one is exempt from bad things happening in his or her life, but how we respond to them is wholly our own decision. 

When I was in high school, both of my parents were teachers in my building. Believe it or not, there were more advantages to that situation than disadvantages. One time when I was sixteen years old, one of my classes was simply having a make-up work day, and since all my work was in, I asked my dad if I could take his car and go get something to eat. He said yes. On the way back to school, on the side street right beside the school campus, a driver with a limited brain capacity backed out of her driveway and ran into me as I was driving by. Now, admittedly, if I was a more experienced driver, it’s likely that I could have avoided this accident, but the driver was ticketed and our car was taken to the shop for repairs. On the day that we picked it up, as my dad was looking over his right shoulder and crossing one lane to turn left into another, a driver from the opposite side of the road was doing the exact same thing. They met in the middle in the form of a car collision. My dad turned the car around and drove it right back into the repair shop for a second round of restoration. I thought he would be mad at me since he blamed me for the first accident, but instead, he laughed about it. He shook his head and laughed. What a good example that was to me.

Author Kim Edwards said, “You can't spend the rest of your life tiptoeing around to try and avert disaster. It won't work. You'll just end up missing the life you have.” Sooo…about a week and a half ago, my wife hit a deer on the way to work. It smashed in the front of her car. The car was in for a little over a week for repairs, costing us one hundred dollars for the comprehensive deductible. The day she picked it up, while stopped with her turn signal blinking and while waiting for traffic to pass so she could make a left turn, a lady smashed into the back of her car going about fifty-five or sixty miles per hour. I had just been lamenting to my son recently about how expensive our auto insurance was. For a family of four who had no points on our licenses, no accident claims for nearly twenty years, and no tickets, it was absurd how much we were paying for insurance. I actually said, “We sure don’t get our money’s worth.” Well, now we do. My wife was the model positive example through all this. If she complained, it wasn’t to me. She actually said to me, “Did I tell you the good news? The insurance company called and said we wouldn’t have to pay any of the deductible. This accident is cheaper than the last one!” 

Author Delphine de Vigan wrote: “In books there are chapters to separate out the moments, to show that time is going by and things are changing, and sometimes the parts even have titles that are full of promise—'The Meeting', 'Hope', 'Downfall'—like paintings do. But in life there's nothing like that, no titles or signs or warnings, nothing to say 'Beware, danger!' or 'Frequent landslides' or 'Disillusion ahead.’ In life you stand all alone in your costume, and too bad if it's in tatters.” In some ways, de Vigan is right. Do you realize that in 1997, eight individuals cracked their skulls when falling asleep while throwing up in a toilet? Did you ever hear about poor Willy Thevessen who threw his Christmas tree out of a third floor window? The problem was that somehow he managed to throw himself out of the window too. I woke up early one morning many years ago with a back ache. My “back ache” was actually a kidney stone. Now, I’m a pretty tough guy. I had rotator cuff surgery on a Tuesday and went to work on Wednesday. But kidney stones are debilitating. Once I realized I needed to go to the emergency room, I made phone calls to take care of school lesson plans and to inform the varsity basketball coach that I probably wouldn’t be coaching the JV that evening. When I finally made it back to our bedroom in full expectation of my wife being ready to hurry me to the hospital, I found her lying on the bathroom floor, passed out with her head between the toilet and the sink. I could hardly breathe, and there was my wife unconscious on the floor. She was my ride! She woke up, passed out again, and woke up again soaked in sweat. She let me know that she had to take a shower before we could leave, and that we had to take the kids to her parents before we went to the hospital. Looking back on it now, I can laugh about the extended pain, and about the ride on my hands and knees in the back of the van (because it was the best position I could manage). Everything’s good now, and apparently I now know what it’s like to have a baby. There were no warning signs about any of those example tragedies.

Sometimes, however, warning signs exist. I saw on a tractor (excavator) a warning sign that said, “Danger: Avoid Death.” I was grateful for the warning. Who knows, maybe it saved my life. On a fuel tank cap, it said, “Never use a lit match or open flame to check the fuel level.” That sounded like very sound advice, regardless of the fact that I normally check my fuel level with my gas gage on the dashboard.  On a child's buggy, it said, “Remove Child Before Folding.” I don’t think I would have forgotten. I appreciate the road sign that said, “Beware of Road Surprises.” Another said, “Caution:  Water on Road During Rain.” Another said, “Road May Be Subject to Sudden Catastrophic Sinkhole Collapse.” Another said, “Danger: Blasting Zone.” Is anyone motivated to drive their vehicles through blasting zones and sinkhole zones to test their survival? Yes, sometimes there are warning signs, but it’s the tragedies that have nothing to do with common sense that I’m writing about. It is the situations that happen because we live the human existence and there’s no way to avoid them.

Mark Twain once said, "Humor is tragedy plus time." We look back at our tragedies, and with time and distance we can often laugh about them. It’s great that we can look back at life optimistically and even gratefully or humorously. But how do we deal with catastrophe or disaster at the moment it happens? Like my dad? Like my wife? The great philosopher Marilyn Monroe once said, “I believe everything happens for a reason. People change so that you learn to let go. Things go wrong so that you learn to appreciate them when they are right….And sometimes, good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

Chuck Swindoll once said, “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live, the more convinced I become that life is ten percent what happens to us and ninety percent how we respond to it.” Yes, we are never far from a “disaster zone,” and since we can’t “direct the wind,” we must learn to “adjust [our] sails.” We can’t “tiptoe” around life trying to “avoid disasters.” We must take them head on. Our attitudes in life show our strength of character. Our attitude determines whether we are bitter and unhappy or optimistically ready to meet new challenges and share our experiences to help other people. We only have one life. We must “stand all alone in [our] costume…[even] if it's in tatters.” Life happens to us. There is no stopping it. The question is, how do we respond to it?