Crisis. It comes in so many shapes and sizes, yet in most instances, it is a sharp, sudden jolt from one reality that throws us into another. We cannot begin to comprehend what has happened in the immediate moment. I’m writing this as Newtown, Connecticut is reeling in the aftermath of the shooting tragedy there. My loss pales in comparison to the loss they are experiencing now.
How do we survive such pain? What is it that we bring close to us in times like these? What do we rescue if forced to leave in a hurry? What do we wish for if we lose everything or the most precious parts of our lives?
We pull those we love close to us. We hold onto physical reminders. We strive to create structure again in a world that is suddenly unfamiliar. My own experience is that we never know just how we handle it until we are in the moment itself.
In those first few hours (extending into days) after I discovered the landslide, I was never quite sure if the house would collapse. So every time I entered it, I would take something else I needed to rescue before it was destroyed. In retrospect, I think there is something important in the items we decide to take with us in that moment. They reveal what we choose to have with us to begin the rebuilding process. For me, I took a couple boxes of Peter’s just released book, my computer with family photos, a Remington bronze, a small overnight bag, some valuable papers and, perhaps most critically, a couple of books that I would find useful over the next months: including Wayne Dyer’s “There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem.”
As refugees staying with fellow Deacon Deirdre and her husband Jim, it became my habit to read a few paragraphs over coffee before I began my daily activities to rescue our belongings, monitor the care of our animals that soon were spread all over the city, and search for solutions for what we had to do next. I would need quiet support to get through this experience starting with the first quote in the book: “You have no problems…though you think you have” from the Course in Miracles.
Funny, that’s just the kind of statement that I didn’t truly understand as I entered this phase of my life. But it was also the kind of statement that began to stretch my mind beyond the limits of our crisis to embrace the possibility of creating a new home and even more over time. “Every meeting in our lives is in some way orchestrated by a divine force…and the strangers to whom we are drawn have something to teach us,” Dyer wrote. Ask and it is given. Be open to receive – even from strangers and unexpected sets of circumstances.
What happened in the weeks after the landslide was surreal. There was no readily accessible manual for assistance, nor did I have the time or ability to research the subject. Each person who came to help or see the damage had to come to terms with what they found. Peter arrived home at 2:00am and would not leave the house, feeling the need to protect its belongings. I, on the other hand, was too frightened to even sit down in the house.
All the utilities still worked so Peter made sure the wires to the TV were high and dry and immediately turned on the television set. The entire floor was covered in mud, but people would wipe their feet on the mat outside and step into the muddy room. Peter’s friend Larry observed the leak overhead in the living room ceiling and asked me to get a pot to catch the water that was dripping onto the already muddy floor. For me, it had a touch of black humor that made no sense, but found we all fall back upon our habits, even when strangely absurd, in the face of such destruction. The fire department arrived to ‘red tag’ the house (in California, that means to condemn the house) and help Peter move the items he would not leave unlocked inside. The insurance adjustor came by to inform us that there was no insurance on the house as landslides and mudslides had proven too expensive so all insurers had stopped covering them. Those were the negatives.
But there were bright spots too. The phone rang in the house a couple days after the slide. It was a producer looking for Peter’s services. We made a decision in that moment that I have always felt made the biggest difference in getting us on track quickly. We consciously chose, then and there, to accept the work in spite of the catastrophe around us. We had a long road ahead with no time like the present to start the process. Crying about the past and what had occurred was not going to help. We had to get through what had happened somehow. It was right in front of us and working would put us in the right frame of mind.
As I think about crisis this morning, this is the immediate lesson I learned. We cannot see purpose while we are in the middle of a situation. We cannot see or feel the future right after an event, however, the sooner we can reach deep within to be inspired by something greater than ourselves, the sooner we move forward, finding meaning where we previously found only despair.
In the face of enormous tragedy, we feel powerless, powerless over events and circumstances and every other element of our lives. But we do have one power – that is the power to turn our thinking to a power greater than ourselves. May you center in this power if crisis surrounds you.
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