I chose the title of this entry before knowing I was going to be writing about something else.
Just now, the fire alarms started blaring in my building–accompanied by flashing lights, loud noises, and the air conditioner shutting off abruptly.
Everyone started running.
Of course, most of the time, fire alarms are ignored. They go off, and then you inevitably hear an announcement to disregard it.
This time: no announcement.
If I wondered whether 9/11 was still alive in my and our collective consciousness (and keep in mind that on that day I was thousands of miles away in Hawaii) I got my answer.
When alarms go off in a New York City Manhattan high rise, you don’t hesitate long. You head for the stairs and you get the hell out.
We first paced through the office quickly to get everyone to leave and then funneled down the stairs (the elevators had been shut off). My coworkers chose a different stairwell, so I headed down with four people from a PR company that shares our floor.
We bonded, instantly. Eye-contact, instantly. We traded reassuring comments. We persisted down the stairs together at a rapid pace.
Somewhere around floor 10, we heard an announcement. We couldn’t make out the words, so we found a re-entry floor and asked the first person we saw.
The person told us the announcement had said to disregard the alarms. We all exchanged a look of relief. By then, the elevators were back on. The four PR folks went up, I went down to take a walk and clear my head.
The truth is my heart was still racing.
I don’t dismiss anomalous events like this anymore, or my responses to them. They’re an opportunity to reflect, and learn. This just happened, so I don’t know all the lessons that I can draw from it, but in this moment a few things come to mind.
1 – Lifeboat. In Advanced, my Lifeboat experience was what felt like a wasted opportunity. When we gave that 30 second speech about why we should live, I came up empty. I said I just couldn’t fathom why my life would be worth more, or have more value, than anyone else’s. And so I couldn’t select myself for the lifeboat–someone else should go. Kathy later pointed out that speech amounted to me valuing myself LESS than everyone else, and of course that had to be true.
But, in this moment, under stress, my primary thought was: get yourself out of here. Ensure others are aware and getting out too, yes, but YOU must get out.
It was a split-second compulsion, but there was nothing random or split-second about it. I’ve been rewired.
So, if I were to slow it down, why? Why did I think: you MUST get out?
Because I’m a wife, and my husband deserves to have me in his life. I still have a lot of love to give him, and a child to give him, and a new life to give him. Because I have a show Saturday and I don’t care if it’s 4pm and only 3 people are there–I want to sing my heart out, feel the nerves, feel the awkwardness, but also feel the exhilaration and joy. Because I’m a writer, and I’ve got so much to share and reveal, but I haven’t even gone for it yet. I need another chance! Because my family needs me–for my guidance, inspiration, support and love. I MUST get out.
2 – Connection. I instantly connected with the folks in the stairwell, even as we’d said nothing to each other (ever) before. We share a floor! We have for months! I need a moment of alarm to push me into connection? Did this country need 9/11 to push past its inner divisiveness? And did we learn nothing from it? How many choice lines do I need to go through?! (This is me yelling at myself.)
3 – I’ll take heart wrenching because the alternative is worse. The only thing I took on my way out, very deliberately, was my phone. Why? Not to check Facebook. Partially for help, if we needed it, but also to make sure I could tell my loved ones what I needed to if anything bad happened. This all sounds so dramatic for a nothing-event, I know, but it’s what went through my mind. I told Jimmy I can’t stand “last messages.” Last phone calls from folks trapped in the trade towers. Last texts from plane crashes or some other tragedy–saying “good bye,” or “I love you.” It’s too much, I can’t take it. I told him if it were me, I wouldn’t do it, it’s too painful.
Turns out I’d do it, however painful, because not being able to say anything is truly awful. Leading to this (obvious) realization: I have GOT to start expressing to people what they mean to me. What if I don’t get a chance? What will their “last message” from me be?
Now how do I get back to “trust,” because that’s the title I chose before it became the case that I was going to write about something entirely different and I feel like I should connect the dots somehow.
Well, what I was going to say is, trust is the first word of my contract for a reason. For me, it’s the one thing that if I do it, it shifts everything else. If I don’t, everything goes to shit. The trouble is, it’s the hardest thing for me to do. I’m attached to control, and in my arrogance and ignorance, often think I CAN control (everything). Where there’s control, you don’t need to rely on fluffy things like trust–you’ve got it covered.
Only, as we know, control is an illusion. See above. It was a false alarm, yes, but, it could not have been. In a world where there are many things we simply cannot control, trust — or even faith — is the only thing that can really pull us through.
I talked to my buddy last night about our mutual tendency to always anticipate the worst case scenario. It’s not unique to us, I know. Many people have some version of this going on. I told her what works for me is to connect to my vision–not intellectually, but experientially, at a heart-level. FEEL the vision, see it, smell it, taste it. Get lost in it. To successfully do it I usually have to tap into my creativity–writing, music (a certain song, a melody, etc.), using my imagination. That supports me in connecting to my vision strongly enough to push through fear and choose differently.
But what I didn’t mention was trust, and faith, and just believing. That’s no accident; those things are never what I turn to in times of stress. Yet, as I think about that now, something inside me unclinches.
And I’ll make a confession. I’m agnostic, but, I lean more toward spirituality than atheism. At the same time, it’s hard for me to say I believe in God, because so many religions have characterizations and definitions of God that just don’t seem right to me. My heart doesn’t buy it. But I feel like I know, deep in my being, that there is magic and miracles in this world, and that there’s something bigger than us that wants us to give, grow, love, discover our gifts and live our best lives.
But, I spend a lot of time, moment-to-moment, denying that. The truth is the denial never feels authentic. It feels the same way drinking felt after Basic. I’m still doing this because I’ve always done it, and part of me is afraid not to do it, but, I really don’t want to do it anymore.
How does this connect to the fire alarm story?
Well, thinking of what came up for me in that moment, trust is what’s missing for me in my life. At the end of my life, all of my regrets will have occurred because I did not trust. I already know that–I’m in fact certain of it.
It’s time to take a moment and have that truly sink in.
If I trusted my relationship, I wouldn’t hold back any love from my husband. If I trusted my family, I wouldn’t protect myself so much during our few precious moments together. If I trusted my gifts, I would never sit out a chance to sing and write and share it freely with no attachment to perfection or results. If I trusted myself, maybe I wouldn’t have to now go back into an office building I wonder why I’m in. I actually felt jealous just now of a homeless man, sitting on the street in the sun with his cardboard sign. I want to be out in the world, among people, not in a box. I don’t know what that means, but it’s what’s coming up.
Now my heart is settled and it’s time to go back to my life. As I do, I commit to staying present to the availability, and power, of choice.