Last evening thunderstorms hit while I was grocery shopping at my local superstore. The lights flickered and went out – several times – and with each, I was plunged into darkness in the middle of a large space.
Have I mentioned that I’m a bit claustrophobic?
I didn’t panic, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disoriented and clinging to my basket. Then I realized I could use my cell phone to generate enough light to get my bearings. I pulled it out of my pocket, poked a few keys, and was able to see enough to breathe more easily.
Within minutes, what I assume to be emergency generators lit the large facility sufficiently for shoppers to continue as usual. I burned through my grocery list ASAP, was thrilled the check-out lines moved efficiently, and then I pushed my cart outside into the steady downpour and rather unnerving lightning.
As I loaded bags into the trunk, a fire truck raced by, sirens blaring.
I had only a few miles to navigate home, and the worst of the storm eased quickly. But taking my usual back roads, I ran smack into a small intersection where neighbors stood in the rain, watching fire fighters tend to a small blaze from a downed line and tree. Nothing spectacular mind you, but a reminder nonetheless that storms are dangerous.
I wound my way around the truck and the wires and the branches, and within two minutes, my path was blocked again by another downed tree that stretched across the road. This time, the detour required more than careful driving; I tried an alternate route only to discover that it, too, was out of bounds due to another tree that had been struck by lightning – half its towering trunk, splayed across the road.
Eventually, of course, I found a passable if meandering way home.
Beyond being wet (and mildly irritated), all was well. I put away groceries and settled in to watch the sky light up, to keep my fingers crossed that no trees or lines would come down on the house, and I was thanking my lucky stars that for now – everything was fine.
This morning I think about how often we survive small storms, and of course, more major life events that test our mettle and our coping skills of all sorts. I think of how many disturbances pass by or pass through, and we take no notice. Perhaps because the incidents seem insignificant. Perhaps because we’ve grown accustomed to their presence, and ignore their cumulative effects.
I’m not speaking of the terrifying natural disasters of the Joplin variety, arousing our awareness of human fragility and mobilizing our sense of community. I mean the everyday sort of storms – dealings with friends, bosses, husbands and wives, parents and children.
Who doesn’t experience his or her share of tiffs and bouts – the fight with a spouse or partner that spirals out of control and you don’t know why? And the next day, you must find your way back to each other after raw words have been exchanged in anger. You wonder if apologies will be sufficient.
Who hasn’t lost her temper with a child who is relentless in wanting attention, or in asking the same questions over and over? A child who triggers some emotional disruption you don’t expect – unaware, of course, that you’ve just received worrisome news from the doctor, or a bill you cannot pay, or your job is threatened by a pending layoff. You need to find a way to situate your angry response, to explain why it happened, to say you’re sorry, to express your stress or concern in a realistic and appropriate context.
Because children need to understand the realities of our daily lives, in appropriate ways.
You’re still trying to figure out how to address it, and everything else you’re responsible for.
Divorce, Job Loss
For me, divorce and layoff coincided – two storms that seemed gargantuan and were, and remain – intertwined. As for the immediate impacts, they loomed large. The losses were far-reaching, and the path back to something remotely recognizable was a long, slow process. Yet most of us build bridges back to those who are most important, or new routes to new friends, new ways of living our lives, and new communities.
We clear away the debris. We navigate the consequences. We take charge of whatever is within our power to manage.
Sometimes we blunder blindly. Sometimes, we’re stopped in our tracks. And then we find we’re more resourceful than we know – reaching into our pockets, poking keys, generating light. And we construct or reconstruct whatever we need to keep moving forward. To keep our families moving forward.
- How do you accomplish interpersonal repairs when you’ve lost your temper?
- How do you teach your children that losing our tempers isn’t the end of the world?
- How do you teach them that anger is part of the emotional landscape – natural, and at times, useful?
- How do you find the reserves of patience required to deal with aging parents?
- How do you approach discussing your fears – about health, jobs, relationships – without alienating friends and loved ones?
- Do you recognize a situation that is beyond repair?