Finding Calm in the Eye of the Storm
On learning the values that will withstand any disaster more than ever before.
I was seven years old when I first experienced the electric calm of being in the eye of the storm.
We were living just outside of Chicago, a city in the midwestern landscape that has earned its pet name “Tornado Alley”. Because I was seven and lacking other aspirations, I wanted the newly released technicolored My Little Pony. Like, desperately. I begged and pleaded with my mother to please, please, please drive my brother and I twenty miles outside of town to the Toys R Us in Aurora county to acquire it.
This was before Instagram, Twitter and nonstop news in your palm. It was a simple time when tornado warnings happened, mainly on the radio or your friendly neighbourhood cable network. Either one of these mediums would have worked to alert us of impending threat. But on this day, since we were driving all that way, my mother, brother, and I listened to a nostalgically Canadian Bryan Adams audio tape instead. We turned it up as we peeled out of the driveway and onto the open stretch of highway, slicing through the wind.
We were almost at the destination of my dreams (Toys R Us) when my mom got a call on the car phone from my very panicked father. He was wondering where we were as he headed to the basement bunker, bracing for the tornado. Alone. I’m sure the words he used were bolder and shorter than this. I’m sure I could call and ask my mother. But I’d rather not stir it all up again. It’s unimportant.
What’s important was the snap decision she had to make to move her two children from the bones of the Jeep to the unknown belly of Toys R Us, immediately. Both locations were in the tornado’s direct path, both equipped with their own bonuses and pitfalls. She chose to follow the neon toys sign, and she chose correctly.
This is how the three of us found ourselves huddled together in the darkness of the Toys R Us bike room with the manager, a handful of teenage brace-faced employees, and a few dozen unlucky shoppers. The bike room was selected by the panicked manager because it had the distinct allure of being underground. Everyone had agreed with the plan. It wasn’t until we all got down there that we stumbled upon the unfortunate fact that all of the bikes were mounted loosely to the ceiling. Fearful looks were exchanged, regrets mumbled, but it was too late. We were exactly where we were, and time was up.
In crisis, no option is perfect.
"In crisis, no option is perfect"
With the electricity cut and the future uncertain, this group of strangers got closer to one another than any of us would have preferred and said nothing at all. I remember thinking about the My Little Pony in its perfect plastic packaging upstairs. How we might never meet. How I may never get to style her rainbow coloured hair with her accompanying pint-sized brush. This is what children do. They innocently self-prioritize despite the wind speed.
It was very quiet. It was kind of scary. But it was also kind of exciting. And in that impossibly long moment, before the tornado came and the bikes started swinging, there was nothing to do but breathe.
There is no choice in chaos except to accept the precious, fleeting, unscripted truth of what is right now and will never be again.
"There is no choice in chaos except to accept the precious, fleeting, unscripted truth of what is right now and will never be again"
The tornado bypassed the toy store by two or three miles. No bikes fell. My Little Pony lived to ride again.
There is no question that we are in the midst of a challenging and defining time in the face of a worldwide pandemic. The next few weeks will be fringed with fear. A few weeks may turn into months. The economic ramifications will likely bleed into a few years of recovery across the board, regardless of industry. There is a lot of noise and while much of it is warranted, much of it has been catalyzed by shared anxiety coupled with the breadth and demand of our digital appetites.
"There is a lot of noise and while much of it is warranted, much of it has been catalyzed by shared anxiety coupled with the breadth and demand of our digital appetites"
Yet as long as two things can be true at once, there is still a great deal of hope here.
The core realization that global connectivity comes at a price — like any other movement of its size — is an unbiased truth. So is humanity’s capacity for resilience and rebirth, so long as we maintain a healthy empathy for one another and accept the communal compromise of a new normal.
Every storm passes to make way for a new one, but it may be comforting to recognize that there has never been a time when we were not, as an interconnected world, in the eye of one.
We feel it now this in our comically Westernized way, in the toilet paper aisle. But the previous generation viewed disaster preparation as simply par for the course in an unpredictable life.
"The previous generation viewed disaster preparation as simply par for the course in an unpredictable life"
Wars have always been fought. Famines have ravaged. People across time and space have been subjected to unspeakable violence. Markets have crashed. If you’ve been listening more than talking lately, you may already realize that chaos is and always has been the status quo.
I hate to throw another bone to the prophetic Joan Didion, but in strange times, I slouch back to her church. In her essay on self-respect, she wrote: “[Our grand-parents] had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts."
While the largest war in the face of COVID-19 is being fought by those rationing hospital beds, we are each fighting our own little battles in our daily lives. These should be respected with as much tenderness as we can manage before we have to move forward to tomorrow.
I don’t feel particularly elated about riding the metaphorical bus towards the unknown, instead of driving my car with a custom Google Map to my preferred destination. Control is addicting for a reason.
But we have to trust in deeper values now. We are challenged to accept that impermanence, just like jolly old Buddha projected, has always been the main course.
"We are challenged to accept that impermanence, just like jolly old Buddha projected, has always been the main course"
I’ve called my parents more times in the past few days than I would have allotted for the year. My brother, the one who comforted me under a bike rack in Aurora county when I was seven, told us all he loved us out of the blue. This comforted me just the same.
I smile when I see children running with flushed cheeks towards a playground, unafraid of what is next.
I think we’ll all appreciate a meal out, a concert venue, and a strong handshake 10-15 times more at the end of this. I hope we all learn to value human connection, fortitude, and the power of love to withstand any impending disaster more than ever before.
I hope we learn this before the next wolf ends up at our door. We’ve cried it a few times, but maybe this time we’ll be ready to dance with it.
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